RESPIGHI: Roman Trilogy = Roman Festivals; Fountains of Rome; Pines of Rome – Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/ JoAnn Falletta – Naxos 8.574013, 62:13 (2/8/19) ****:
Conceived 1916-1928, the three major tone poems by Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) offer monumental colors to the orchestra that can realize their national ambitions. JoAnn Falletta traverses a sonic world well mapped out on record by the legendary Arturo Toscanini, Sir Eugene Goossens, and the no less illustrious Victor de Sabata. These potent recordings from Buffalo, New York date from 30 May and 4 June 2018, under the production supervision of Tim Handley.
Respighi’s 1916 Fountains of Rome captures the aura of four of Rome’s fountains at an hour most conducive to liberating their colorful energies. The water blends into a more cosmic landscape, historical as it is topographical. Valle Giulia at dawn depicts a pastoral, marked by the lowing of cattle as they pass from the scene. The Buffalo horns announce the presence the Triton Fountain. The sensuous design of the fountain includes naiads and tritons in mad pursuit, those “timbrels” described by John Keats. The dance that ensues has a mad revelry about it, punctuated by jets of water. The Fountain of Trevi at midday conveys a solemn, martial character. The triumphal procession includes the chariot of the god Neptune as seahorses draw it forward. Typical of such Roman processions, it fades into a mystical distance, only for the music to segue to the Fountain of Villa Medici at sunset. Respighi combines tolling bells, bird calls, and rustling leaves, a sonic continuum that dissolves in a melancholy nostalgia for an era of past glories.
The Pines of Rome (1924), perhaps the most often performed of the trilogy, has a sonic luster that well pays homage to Respighi’s teacher of orchestration, Rimsky-Korsakov, while it rivals in immediacy the more imposing scores of Richard Strauss. The opening kaleidoscope of colors has children at play in the grove of the Villa Borghese, and their somersaults and hand-held eddies mean to give us a “Ring Around a Rosy” sensibility. The trumpet work from the BPO warrants our respect. The music subitos for The Pines near a Catacomb, for we have traversed from childhood to a land of the dead. The chant that emerges has much of bucolic languor as it possesses of old Roman liturgy – the Kyrie and Clemens Rector – and the triumph of the Caesars. We move to The Pines of the Janiculum, music rife with tension as a full moon shines upon the pines at Giancolo’s Hill. Using the recording of a nightingale, Respighi proffers a vaguely uneasy sense of Nature, an “artificial” nocturne that arises from the Temple of Janus, an intriguing combination of the past and (technological) present. The misty dawn unfolds on The Pines of the Appian Way, where an ancient, regal procession celebrates the Roman Triumph towards the Capitoline Hill. Falletta decisively makes the earth tremble with that Roman might whose armies once terrorized the civilized world. Somehow, the Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo manages to contain the fiercely expansive sonorities that explode across our aural consciousness.
Roman Festivals (1928), the last of the trilogy, open the disc, invokes at first blows the Circus Maximus, scene of brutal pageantry and cruel martyrdom. A chorus of religious pilgrims moves to their doom by wild beasts. Even as the Christians fall, we hear the clash of gladiators’ weapons in spectacular entertainment for the likes of Nero and Caligula. The second movement allows us a moment if quietude, Il Giubileo, which depicts a holy pilgrimage to the Eternal City. At the crest of Monte Mario, the devotees espy Rome and burst into a hymn of praise. The October Festival, the longest movement, essentially depicts a fertility and hunt celebration, when the wine of life embraces the true harvest of Nature, life, and love-song, courtesy of a mandolin. The last section, the night prior to the Epiphany in the Piazza Navona, once more offers a kaleidoscope of effects, a raucous frenzy of activities of a barrel organ and lively dance tunes, saltarelli, and street songs puffed with Roman pride of place. Falletta’s trumpets have set the tone early, here in this symphonic poem, that will resonate throughout each of the three poems. Each of the symphonic poems combines pagan and Christian energies, marked by that popular claim, Lassatece passa, semo Romani!” We Romans demand the right of passage!