RESPIGHI: Church Windows; Brazilian Impressions; Rossiniana – Suite for Orchestra – Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta – Naxos

by | Nov 21, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

RESPIGHI: Church Windows; Brazilian Impressions; Rossiniana – Suite for Orchestra – Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta – Naxos Italian Classics 8.557711, 65:26 ****:

Most music lovers probably have at least one copy of Respighi’s brilliant widescreen musical travelogues, The Pines and Fountains of Rome. They have been especially popular with audiophiles for their colorful orchestrations, along with the third work of the trilogy, Roman Festivals. Well, Respighi wrote some other similarly colorful orchestral impressions, and one of them which hasn’t received many recordings is Church Windows. It began life as a three-movement suite for solo piano and was later expanded to symphonic dimensions with a fourth movement added. The work does not depict four specific stained glass windows, just the mood and spirituality of the subject. The descriptive titles were actually added after Respighi composed the music. However, the second movement – St. Michael the Archangel – seems very programmatic in its depiction of a war in heaven as St. Michael slays the dragon. I recall what an audiophile treat its loud tam-tam stroke at the conclusion was on its first recording on a Mercury Living Presence LP.

The three Brazilian Impressions continue the composer’s gift for tone-painting, this time preserving in music a trip to Brazil he made with his wife. The first and longest movement describes a Tropical Night and is in a similar vein to many of Villa-Lobos’ works. The second movement quotes the fateful Dies irae theme as part of a musical picture of deadly poisonous snakes in a reptile zoo, and the finale is a boisterous Song and Dance set in a Carnaval atmosphere.

Respighi was fascinated by the many quirky piano miniatures of Rossini, and had first used some of them in his popular ballet La boutique fantasque.  Later he again turned to the Rossini pieces in his four-movement Rossiniana, which conjures up the moods and impressions of Italian song and dance. The final movement is a breathless and infectious Tarantella.

I couldn’t locate either my LP version of the Mercury Living Presence Church Windows, but did find a Mercury series CD reissue of the Brazilian Impressions conducted by Antal Dorati. Even though by the time Wilma Cozart transferred these 1957 masters to CD some noticeable dropouts on one channel marred the first two movements of the Brazilian music, I have to say both the performance and the Mercury sonics had more snap and enthusiasm than the new Buffalo edition, and my aural recollection is that the same could probably be said for Church Windows. This music cries out for SACD release, but Naxos seems to have given up on that format.

 – John Sunier

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