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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1897-1936)
Trittico Botticelliano (1927) [20:06]
Il Tramonto (1914) [16:24]
Vetrate di Chiesa (1926) [28:49]
Anna Caterina Antonacci (soprano)
Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège/John Neschling
rec. 2016, Salle Philharmonique, Liège, Belgium
Reviewed in SACD stereo.
BIS BIS-2250 SACD [66:26]

I have been much impressed by John Neschling’s Respighi recordings for BIS in the past including the ‘Roman Trilogy’ (review), and the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège has also proven itself in the Sinfonia drammatica and Metamophoseon. This particular disc has already been much praised elsewhere on these pages, and I can only add my own admiration for its sound quality and opulent sense of joyous music making.
The Botticelli Triptych is a joyous affair in its own right, Respighi’s skilful orchestration creating a rich world of trilling effusiveness in the opening ‘Spring’, beautiful wind solos in the central Andante lento for ‘The Adoration of the Magi’, and impressionist colours in the final movement portraying ‘The Birth of Venus’. Modal scales and touches of Gregorian chant and other antique elements give this music a hint of timelesness that blends seamlessly with Respighi’s romantic idiom to deliver a score of utter charm, perfectly balanced and performed in this recording.

Il tramonto or ‘The Sunset’, is justifyably popular cantata for mezzo-soprano and string quartet or string orchestra that sets words based on a poem by Percy Shelley. This work was less familiar to me, and I was initially surprised by its distinctively late-Romantic style, drawing on Wagner and Richard Strauss for its chromatic intensity. Anna Caterina Antonacci has just the right kind of voice for this piece, perhaps a little silvery in tone for the softest moments, but soaring above the orchestra with ease and refinement, and sublimely delivering the contrasts between moments of dramatic ‘parlando’ and the most gorgeous of phrases.

I first heard Vetrate di Chiesa in its original for piano, and in some ways still prefer this medium for music that has an atmosphere and drama to rival Debussy. This is as good a recording of the orchestration as I can remember hearing however, the Liège strings wonderfully broad and expressive in that opening movement of La fuga in Egitto, the combative San Michele Arcangelo suitably epic. Mystic reserve of Il mattutino di Santa Chiara is given eloquent depth in this recording, and the final San Gregorio Magno builds from exotic, incense infused darkness in a way that recalls Debussy’s La cathédral engloutie, into what Jean-Pascal Vachon’s booklet note describes as “a veritable ecstasy of sound”, enriched with organ and evoking the mystery, opulence and sheer theatrical splendour of the highest echelon of the Catholic Church.
Trittico botticelliano is well served on recordings including with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jesús López-Cobos on the Telarc label (review), though this is a bit too brisk and busy in La Primavera, and more perfunctory elsewhere in comparison with Neschling. Il Tramonto has an alternative with mezzo Christine Rice and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia conducted by Antonio Pappano (review) which is also excellent, though I personally prefer Anna Caterinas Antonacci’s sound, Christine Rice’s vibrato tending to be more pervasive and, to my ears more of a distraction in the upper registers. There are a few recordings of Vetrate di Chiesa around, that with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta on the Naxos label (review) giving many an alternative version a run for its money, but not quite topping this BIS recording for sheer magnificance. If you are a fan of Respighi, romantic music in general, or are just seeking somewhere to go beyond the ‘Roman triptych’, then you owe it to yourself to acquire this superb disc.

Dominy Clements

Previous reviews: Dan Morgan (Recording of the Month) ~ John Quinn ~ Nick Barnard



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