Respighi is best known for his widescreen colorful musical travelogues The Pines and Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals, as well as his Rossini arrangements La boutique fantasque and the early music transcriptions suites Ancient Airs and Dances. This magnificently-recorded disc brings us three mostly unfamiliar Respighi works plus a fourth which will be familiar to some listeners.
The somewhat-familiar Rossiniana is another exploration of the extensive Italian musical heritage, and is a bit similar to La boutique fantasque except that the work was not designed for the ballet. Many Italian composers have penned such arrangements of earlier music. These include Scarlattiana, Paganiniana, Cimarosiana and Vivaldiana. The brilliant orchestral suite of four movements ends with a spectacular Tarantella.
The Metamorphoses was written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Koussevitsky. It’s main theme goes thru twelve variations in the twelve church modes, and each one includes passages for different instrumental soloists to do their virtuoso thing. The theme is derived from Gregorian Chant. Toscanini – a longtime Respighi-booster – commissioned the Bach Passacaglia transcription for orchestra. It made Bach the only non-Italian composer ever transcribed by Respighi. The 14-minute work also makes a rousing conclusion to this most enjoyable collection.
This, by the way, is another of the 2+2+2 surround discs from MDG. The center and LFE channels carry signals picked up by mikes in line with the frontal mikes but high above them. The optimum playback in the home is via two more speakers mounted above the front L & R at half the distance the L & R are separated. (The surround channels stay where they are.) We’ll publish a special feature on all the 2+2+2 SACDs and DVD-As shortly, but meanwhile this disc was such a winner that I wanted to review it separately first. There’s a special transparency even in the standard 5.1 configuration. The spatial placement and clarity of the various soloists was almost uncanny. Very highly recommended!
– John Sunier