If you like the works of Ottorino Respighi, you cannot go wrong with this disc. It is splendidly performed. The Wroclaw Chamber Orchestra plays Trittico botticelliano with delicacy and fine shadings. Respighi isn’t a subtle composer, nor is he particularly original (except in the one notable instance below). Yet here the horns are lush and mellow without being intrusive and the diminuendos are tasty, particularly in the second movement. The final five-minute section, The Birth of Venus, doesn’t quite conjure up a naked goddess seductively unfolding her arms. (Respighi may have been born during Italy of the Risorgimento, but he worked in Italy of the Fascists.) Yet the rustling woodwinds do paint the water nicely and the false ending’s a clever touch.
I’ve never been that fond of the derivative Gli uccelli, but Respighi felt he had to contribute somehow to the neoclassical resurgence. The strings are delicately balanced in tone and dynamics, and the smoothness of Nesterowicz’s conducting saves this piece from a background-listening fate. The true prize on this disc is Ewa Podleś singing Il tramonto. Based on a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley about a woman mourning for her dead lover, this fifteen-minute masterpiece probes the anatomy of grief, from outrage, through sorrow, right into the pit of resignation. It is Mahlerian in scope, with a dollop of Zemlinsky. The text isn’t included, but here are three of Shelley’s poignant lines: “Whether the dead find, oh, not sleep! but rest,/And are the uncomplaining things they seem/Or live, or drop in the deep sea of Love. . . .” With a voice sweet and round as a ripe mango, Podleś may be the best contralto singing today. What a pity she’s only on the disc for fifteen minutes. And too bad Dux’s CD cover is so deceptive, with its prominent head shot of Podleś. I would have preferred a fifties-style design: a large shot of the orchestra with a small cutout of Podleś superimposed, to indicate that she happens to be on the disc for – alas — too short a time.
— Peter Bates