Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Respighi: Pini di Roma, Feste Romane, Fontane di Roma

This is such an exceptionally fine recording that in praising it to the skies I risk understating Maazel’s affectionate as well as brilliant performances. But then, as a note from the recording producer points out, the technique he has used would only work with the combination of an outstanding orchestra, a fine acoustic and a conductor in total control of the orchestral balancing. Only two microphones were used (supplemented, of course, by others for the separately recorded organ and the off-stage brass) and only two tape tracks, making it quite impossible to ‘improve’ the balance later. 

The gains, to one who has always been dubious about ‘multi-miking’ anyway, are immediately obvious and I would have said unanswerable. The orchestral sound is perfectly natural and perfectly believable; the acoustic is both perceptible and credible; Respighi’s textures are satisfyingly rich but always comprehensible; instruments are in the right perspective, and when a solo line is prominent there is no sense that it has been artificially spotlit or moved forward.

The sound is genuinely realistic, in short: just what you hope to hear from a good seat in a better than average concert-hall. Once you’ve got over the pleasurable relief of hearing such a sound again, you notice of course what a splendid orchestra this is: in Pines alone, what wonderfully velvety strings to evoke the shadows of the pines near a catacomb, what sensitive woodwind soloists as companions to the nightingale (poetically distant but beautifully clear) on the moonlit Janiculum! And then, trusting the balances as Maazel’s own and not half-wondering whether your compliments ought not to be awarded to the engineers, you enjoy not only the fine control of his big crescendos in the second and fourth movements, but the fact that you don’t have to fiddle with the volume controls to appreciate both the quiet and the loud ends of those crescendos.

His ear for shadings and contrasts of colour is sharp; so is his realization of how much of the drama of this music is dependent on a sense of orchestral space: the solo horn audibly behind the hushed strings in “L’Ottobrata”, the orchestra a sort of spatial analogue for the Colosseum in “Circenses” (Nos. 3 and 1 of Festivals respectively). Sony’s booklet, artfully, is in monochrome; the sound is not only in full colour but in three-dimensional relief. It is quite stunning, and under its immediate impact I can’t think of any modern recording of Respighi’s Roman pictures (not even that of Jansons) that approaches it.' --Gramophone 6/1997, Michael Oliver

MP3 320 · 138 MB

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