Respighi: La Boutique fantasque (CD review)

Also, Impressioni brasiliane. Charles Dutoit, Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Decca 289 455 983-2.

Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936), celebrated mostly for his collections of tone poems like The Pines of Rome, The Fountains of Rome, and The Festivals of Rome, he also created the music for the delightful ballet composite La Boutique fantasque (or "The Magic Toy Shop"), based on lesser-known tunes by Gioacchino Rossini and premiered in 1919. The music makes a splendid impression under conductor Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony.

La Boutique fantasque has a built-in charm. How can one not like a ballet that brings toys to life after the toy shop closes? My comparison in the work was the equally well played recording by Richard Bonynge, an early digital release (1982) also from Decca (which I listened to on a London CD). Dutoit brings a gentler, more delicate quality to the score than Bonynge, which may or may not please all listeners while certainly making the work easy to listen to.

Charles Dutoit
But it's in its sonic properties that the new disc scores over its older rival. Dutoit's orchestra sounds smoother, buttery smooth, in fact, more dynamic, and, most important, better imaged. There is a depth and breadth to the orchestral arena that makes the Bonynge effort sound positively one-dimensional. Dutoit's acoustic is natural and alive, preserving detail and clarity within a subtly reverberant ambiance.

Of course, Dutoit and Bonynge aren't the only conductors to have recorded the work. There are also fine releases from Arthur Fiedler (RCA), Ernest Ansermet (Decca), Andrew Davis (Sony), Antonio Janigro (Vanguard), Gianandrea Noseda (Chandos), Neville Marriner (Philips), Marzio Conti (CPO), Eugene Ormandy (Sony), and many others. So the field is still wide open.

Dutoit's coupling, Respighi's Impressioni brasiliane, seems surprisingly refined for a composer so often thought of for his vigorous color. The piece is almost sedate in its understatement but, frankly, doesn't capture a whole lot of Brazil's traditional spirit until the final movement.

Overall, though, Dutoit's La Boutique fantasque is undoubtedly among the best recordings available of it, surely one of the best sounding, and its companion piece makes it an even better value.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa