RESPIGHI: Brazilian Impressions; La Boutique Fantastique ballet – Orchestre Philharmonique Royal De Liegè/ John Neschling – BIS multichannel SACD 2050, 68:55 (5/27/14) [Dist. by Naxos] ****:
During the 19th century it was thought that the proper place for an Italian composer was writing operas. Respighi did compose some operas, but he was best known for his tone poems, most notably The Pines of Rome, The Fountains of Rome, and the Roman Festivals.
Of course, the composer’s work went much deeper than that, and on this likable disc from BIS we get two of the lesser known but still oft-performed works, Brazilian Impressions, and La Boutique Fantastique, a ballet score based on music by Rossini.
Brazilian Impressions was written following a trip to Brazil, and was composed in 1927-28. Respighi traveled with his wife and was so impressed he promised the Brazil Symphony that he would compose an appropriate orchestral suite. Originally planned as a five-movement work, we get three instead, beginning with “Tropical Night.” The second movement In a snake garden near Sao Paolo gives us more exotic instruments along with tambourine and sinister sounding chromatic figures. The work closes with “Song and Dance,” which has a carnival celebratory sound.
The performance by the Liège Symphony of Belgium is an excellent one. Conductor John Neschling was born in Brazil and seems to have a natural affinity for the music. The recording is excellent in both its 5.0 and CD layer, sounding essentially the same except for the surround. Respighi’s rich orchestration is well highlighted in this excellent recording. The surround channels of the 5.0 mix are reserved for hall ambiance, and give the music a welcome warmth, but I got a similar sound on the CD layer listening through my Dolby ProLogic decoder.
La Boutique Fantasque or The Magic Toyshop is a one act ballet, with Respighi’s music based on piano pieces by Rossini. It was premiered at the Alhambra Theater in London in 1919. The ballet as scored by Respighi has eight movements. Here again, we get a warm and inviting recording, very well-played and ably conducted by Neschling.
BIS has given us a fine recording and performance of these two pieces. There is a lot to like here, and it makes me want to seek out some of the other recordings this group has done, including Respighi’s Roman trilogy of Pines, Fountains and Feste Romane.