Monday, April 28, 2008
Revisiting an Old Friend
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
The Pines of Rome (1923) [19:04]
Impressioni brasiliane (1928) [18:03]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Boutique fantasque – Ballet (1918) [35:40]
Arranged and orchestrated by Respighi.
Recorded at Kingsway Hall, London, 22 January, 1957 (Pines) 28-29 May 1959 (Boutique) 18-21 March 1955 (Impressioni).
MEDICI ARTS MM022-2 [73:19] Stereo and Mono (Impressioni brasiliane)
Medici Arts have been issuing a rather steady stream of classic recordings from the archives of EMI and the BBC. Highly prized as collectable LPs, these recordings of works by Respighi and Rossini by Alceo Galliera have already attained legendary status, and these mid-priced compact discs are welcome for their lengthy programs and their dedication to preserving the work of some great musicians whose recordings have fallen out of regular circulation.
Alceo Galliera was born into a musical family in Milan in 1910. His father was a composer and professor of organ at the Parma conservatory and encouraged his son’s study of music. He first appeared as a conductor in 1941, and would go on to build a career mainly as a conductor of recordings for Walter Legge and his EMI Columbia label. He is most famous for having conducted Maria Callas’ complete studio recording of The Barber of Seville. He was also a frequent concerto accompanist, recording with such artists as Geza Anda, Claudio Arrau, Pierre Fournier, David Oistrakh and others. Known for his disciplined rehearsals, he was particularly at home in virtuoso orchestral showpieces.
In the early twentieth century, two composers were standouts, Puccini in the opera house and Respighi in the concert hall. He was the first Italian composer to make a name for himself in the orchestral realm, and his works stand out as superior to those of his contemporaries even today. The Pines of Rome was a follow up work to the successful Fountains of Rome from 1915-16. Drawing heavily on Respighi’s love of plainchant and folk tunes, these elegant miniatures are masterfully orchestrated, right down to the use of bird calls. Galliera leads a sparkling and taut performance that, in this writer’s opinion, is one of the few to rival Toscanini’s brilliant recording with the NBC Symphony, an account which is without peer. The distinct advantage with Galliera is the stereophonic sound.
La Boutique Fantasque was written for Diaghilev’s ballet company and is drawn from little piano pieces that Rossini either had put aside or were rejected by his publisher. Tuneful and joyous, these splendid orchestrations spill over with great tunes. The Philharmonia dash them off with tremendous aplomb.
Last is the oldest recording on the disc, recorded in mono, but still vivid and quite easy to listen to. The work shows Respighi at his most impressionistic. The unusual middle movement with its Dies irae quote reflects the composer’s thoughts upon visiting a poisonous snake breeding enterprise while traveling in South America.
These are performances of considerable and long standing renown, so there is no need to belabor every detail here. Suffice it to say that there is a good reason that they have remained in the catalogue for over fifty years, and continue to be prized by collectors. They’re good! Well worth the initial investment to hear a master conductor at the height of his powers. If you are seeking an upgrade from your vinyl, you will be most pleased with the quality of these transfers. A winner all ‘round.