Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Respighi - Orchestre Symphonique De Montréal, Charles Dutoit ‎– Pines Of Rome, etc.

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

Terry Blain writes in classical-miusic.com that Ottorino Respighi falls into that unenviable category of a composer whose reputation rests unduly on a particular work, or group of compositions. In his case it is the so-called ‘Roman Trilogy’, three separately conceived orchestral pieces penned between 1916-1928, his prime creative period.

The popularity of the Trilogy has often been attributed to Respighi’s undeniable brilliance as an orchestrator, his ability to conjure a kaleidosocopic range of crowd-pleasing colours and impressions from his instrumental palette.

In writing Fountains of Rome Respighi’s prime motivation was to render the profound aesthetic impression made on him, the ‘sentiments and visions’ inspired, as he put it, by four exquisitely sculpted Roman fountains ‘contemplated at the hour in which their character is most in harmony with the surrounding landscape, or their beauty appears most impressive to the observer’.

Respighi wrote Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome) to ‘use nature as a point of departure, in order to recall memories and visions’ of the Eternal City, and present ‘a fantastic vision of bygone glories’. His perspective, though proudly patriotic, is that of an enthralled observer of his country’s history and is intensely personal: tellingly, Respighi’s wife Elsa said that Pines of Rome was ‘one of the compositions in which the Maestro was most emotionally involved’.

Feste Romane (Roman Festivals) rounds off the Roman Trilogy in 1928. Though generally regarded as less successful than its two predecessors, Roman Festivals, with its ‘maximum of orchestral sonority and colour’, represented a culmination of Respighi’s large-scale orchestral composition. ‘With the present constitution of the orchestra,’ he wrote, ‘it is impossible to achieve more, and I do not think I shall write any more scores of this kind.’

[Church of St-Eustache and cannon ball damage from 1837 (red circle)]

For most of the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra released many albums of French repertoire music and some “popular” repertoire works for the London/Decca record label. All of these were recorded at the historic Church in the city of Saint Eustache, North of Montreal. The church, made famous during the Rebellion of 1837, was renowned for its superb acoustics, however the logistics of bringing the orchestra to the church, employing City Police to prevent traffic from disrupting the recording sessions and the general disruption to the daily operation of the Church (as the pews and floor plan needed to be constantly changed to accommodate the recording engineers) made it untenable as a recording venue.

(Recent recordings of the Orchestra and its city rival Orchestre Métropolitain usually take place either at their shared concert hall or in city churches in the area, whose logistics are less onerous shall I say…).

I’m unsure if this qualifies as a “popular” repertoire offering – since the orchestra did record a second Respighi album some years later – but the orchestra committed the “Roman Trilogy” of tones poems to disc in the summer of 1982. In 2014, CBC Radio 2 compiled “The 30 best Canadian classical recordings ever” and this recording made the hit parade:

Audiophiles, this one's for you. The orchestra positively shimmers in this perfectly balanced, exquisitely engineered recording. Dutoit leads the orchestra in an exhilarating performance, exploiting the full range of brilliant orchestral effects and bold colours with panache. Crank it up — way up — and savour the sound.

Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879 - 1936)
Pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome), symphonic poem, P. 141
Feste romane (Roman Festivals), symphonic poem, P. 157
Fontane di Roma (The Fountains of Rome), symphonic poem, P. 106

Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Charles Dutoit, conducting
London Records ‎– LDR 71091
Recorded: St-Eustache (Québec), June 1982
Format: Vinyl, LP

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