Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The colour wheel turned up to 11

Respighi: Vetrate Di Chiesa, Il Tramonto, Trittico Botticelliano

As with earlier discs in this Respighi series from BIS,  John Neschling has the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liege firing on all cylinders, which is such a plus for a composer who provides so many opportunities for the orchestra to show off. So it's quite a surprise to see that two of these three pieces didn't begin as rich and gaudy orchestral showpieces. Vetrate Di Chiesa (Church Windows) started out as Tre preludi sopra melodie gregoriane, three charming pieces written in 1919-21 for solo piano. In 1925 Respighi opened up and colourized these melodies, and added a fourth work as a bonus.  Listen to that opulent final piece, San Gregorio Magno:

This is wide-screen, Technicolor music, and it's not afraid of nudging up against effects some might find vulgar. It's great fun, so you might not notice at first how Neschling has his fine musicians playing with such determination and precision.

Il Tramanto (The Sunset) is a cantata based on a Shelley poem that Respighi wrote in 1914, for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. It's played here with a full complement of strings, and sung by the splendid soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci. Even without winds, brass, percussion and organ, everything I've said about colour in Church Windows is relevant here.  This is partly due to superb playing and singing, and partly because of the the 35-year-old composer's skillful blend of the styles of his compatriot Puccini and a couple of composers from the other side of the Alps: Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner. I'd never heard this music before, and my view of Respighi has gone up considerably now that I know it well.

The Trittico Botticelliano is my favourite Respighi work, and it receives a lavish recording here. Neschling translates Respighi's fine sense of both melody and orchestral colour, analogues of Botticelli's legendary line and colour, into a perfectly balanced performance. It's great to see this Brazilian conductor, who completely nailed the Villa-Lobos Choros series in his 2008 recordings with OSESP, also from BIS, doing the same on the other side of the Atlantic.

This is the second disc I've reviewed in 2018, and I'm pleased to be able to praise the cover design once again. I hope we can keep that streak going! It's based on a detail from the 1914 International Art Glass Catalogue by the National Ornamental Glass Manufacturers Association of the United States and Canada. You can download the entire catalogue in PDF format here at the Internet Archive; it's gorgeous!

1 comment:

  1. I recently discovered your blog. This is is the first piece I listened to based on your review. It's been playing in the background on a busy morning, so I can't give it the detailed attention I'd like to, but I agree with two comments: this really is Technicolor music, and it is also really fun. Thanks.