Superb Roman Trilogy from JoAnn Falletta

Respighi: Roman Trilogy

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta

This CD begins with the final work of the Trilogy, Roman Festivals (1928), which is the longest and  most ambitious of the three, yet the one that has least impact on me. Nonetheless, in an excellent performance, captured in great sound, it gets the programme off to an enjoyable start. The first section illustrates gladiatorial combat in the Roman Circus, and the final section brings a riot of sound in La Befana (The Epiphany), with clashing rhythms one against the other. JoAnn Falletta draws from the orchestra a suitable sense of swing in key moments of this work and creates a sense of Mediterranean sunshine and a feeling of abandon that sets the listener up for the remaining two works.

After the lively start we get an opportunity to cool down beside the fountains. The Fountains of Rome (1915 – 1916) is a musical picture postcard, with each of the four linked sections warmly evocative in describing the fountains of the Valle Giulia at dawn, of the Tritone at midday, of the Trevi in the afternoon and of the Villa Medici at sunset. This was the work which first established Respighi as a master of orchestration; although it took Toscanini’s promotion of the work for this became generally recognized. At the first fountain, Falletta draws us into a serene pastoral scene with the sound of distant cowbells and a hint of Middle Eastern modality. Suddenly we are catapulted into the Triton Fountain at Morn and the horns abruptly wake the water creatures and we feel the naiads splashing and spouting. As we arrive at the Trevi at Midday in this performance we can really sense Neptune, in all of his glory, being triumphantly driven in his magnificent chariot. Finally we get to the Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset with its urbanity, artistry and holiness. In this work of contrasting aural vignettes Falletta captures so expertly the disorientation that I experience in Rome, an unsettling feeling that I am not quite certain in what century I am living.

The programme sensibly concludes with The Pines of Rome (1924) – the second and most popular work of the Trilogy. The work begins by painting a boisterous picture of children playing beneath the Pines of the Villa Borghese and Falletta obtains a gloriously shimmering tone from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The he third of the four sections, The Pines of Gianicolo, with its innovative use of the sound of the song of a nightingale, is played most beautifully on this recording. As the brass section plays powerfully in the final section, The Pines of the Appian Way, one can really sense the tramp of Roman legions and you almost expect a Roman centurion to appear before you! A stirring end to a tremendous release that you really must experience – at bargain price this is unmissable.

JoAnn Falletta and her players in the Buffalo Philharmonic seem to go from strength to strength in these releases from Naxos and I’m sure that all collectors will be really grateful for this latest addition to the catalogue. This disc will stand proudly on my shelves alongside great versions of this trilogy by Toscanini, Bernstein, Reiner, and Kempe.

Just turn it up loud, to get the full benefit, and sit back and enjoy!

iClassical rating: