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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Ottorino Respighi - Transcriptions of Bach & Rachmaninov (John Neschling)


Information

Composer: Ottorino Respighi
  • (01) Prelude & Fugue in D major, P. 158 (after J.S. Bach's BWV 532)
  • (03) Passacaglia in C minor, P. 159 (after J.S. Bach's BWV 582)
  • (05) Tre Corali, P. 167 (after J.S. Bach)
  • (08) Cinq Études-Tableaux, P. 160 (after Rachmaninoff)

Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège
John Neschling, conductor

Date: 2021

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Review

While Ottorino Respighi’s cinematic ‘Roman Trilogy’ pushes for a dramatic use of vivid orchestral colours, his various visits to other composers’ work venture quite a few steps further. Pre-war, ‘big orchestral’ Bach primarily, if not exclusively, meant Leopold Stokowski and his magnificent Philadelphia Orchestra, where richly textured sound canvases conveyed the essence of key large-scale organ works. True, post-war and well into the digital era, others recorded those same or similar arrangements, but Stokowski in Philadelphia provided our musical imaginations with a soundtrack of unrivalled power and majesty, and still do. As to Respighi, as I recall his Bachian star surfaced on disc rather later, initially in San Francisco in 1949 with Pierre Monteux and the mighty Passacaglia and Fugue (RCA, though a Boston stereo broadcast on WHRA blazes even more brightly), then, once the Toscanini archives were opened to the public, the maestro himself provided two NBC versions (Guild, Naxos) that turned on the heat with blistering intensity.

Rather than emulate Stokowski’s cathedrals in sound, Respighi turns directly to the sun, facing it head-on, underpinned with hefty brass pedal points, and Toscanini, who commissioned the orchestration, relishes the blinding glare. John Neschling and the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, although very well recorded, don’t quite match Toscanini’s – or Monteux’s – intensity. Neither at the start of the piece can they quite steal a lead on the BBC Philharmonic under Leonard Slatkin (Chandos, 10/00), who, well versed in the lavish musical manners of Hollywood, has the idiom in his blood. Slatkin’s disc, a superb production in all respects, is devoted to various Bach orchestrations and Chandos’s recordings will take some beating. Neschling also offers us the D major Prelude and Fugue, BWV532, where the fugue’s relatively light textures come off especially well. So do the Three Chorales, most notably ‘Meine Seele erhebt den Herren’, which becomes Andante con moto e scherzando and in doing so picks up three times its usual tempo.

The five Rachmaninov orchestrations find Respighi bringing as many piano narratives to orchestral life, with images supplied by the composer, and never more vividly than with the ominous roar that opens the Étude-tableau No 4, an evocation of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf, Neschling and his orchestra rather quieter – and therefore more ominously suggestive – than Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic (Chandos, 1/07). The first and most beautiful of the studies, ‘The Sea and Seagulls’, alludes unmistakably to The Isle of the Dead, music that actually pre-dated the piano Étude. Here Neschling is significantly swifter than Noseda, whose performance conveys more of the music’s innate sense of sadness. He does however offer reliable, well recorded accounts of everything on offer here; but if the Passacaglia is your main requirement, best to opt for Slatkin or, if age is no barrier, Monteux or Toscanini.

-- Rob Cowan, Gramophone


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Ottorino Respighi (9 July 1879 – 18 April 1936) was an Italian composer and musicologist. He is best known for his orchestral music, particularly the three Roman tone poems: Fountains of Rome (Fontane di Roma), Pines of Rome (I pini di Roma), and Roman Festivals (Feste romane). His musicological interest in 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century music led him to compose pieces based on the music of these periods. He also wrote a number of operas, the most famous of which is La fiamma. Although Respighi was one of the leading members of the Generazione dell'Ottanta.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottorino_Respighi

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John Neschling (born May 13, 1947 in Rio de Janeiro) is a Brazilian orchestral and operatic conductor. He studied conducting under Hans Swarowsky and Reinhold Schmid in Vienna and under Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa in Tanglewood. Later, he won several international conducting competitions. Neschling was music director and chief conductor of the São Paulo State Symphony from 1997 to 2008. During the twelve years under his leadership, the OSESP became a first rate international orchestra, and recorded a series of CDs, winning 5 Diapason d'Or and one Latin Grammy. 

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