OTTORINO RESPIGHI - Sinfonia Drammatica

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OTTORINO RESPIGHI - Sinfonia Drammatica - Belfagor Overture - Liège Philharmonic Orchestra - John Neschling (Conductor) - Hybrid SACD - 7318599922102 - Released: July 2016 - BIS BIS-2210

I'm confident everyone would agree that Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) was a master orchestrator capable of painting large sonic canvases evoking vivid and colorful imagery as in The Pines of Rome, Church Windows and Belkis, Queen of Sheba to name just a handful. But what about pure symphonic non-programmatic music like this Sinfonia Drammatica composed in 1914. Relatively speaking, it's much easier to come up with good material when you're trying to depict an event or a graphic vision, than it is to start with a few good thematic ideas and develop and manipulate them over a long span of time. You see, music is the only art form that not only exists in physical space, but also in time, and only the very best composers can write a piece spanning an hour or even more, and make it work. And Respighi is a prime example. This is a magnificent symphonic statement, perfectly laid out, developed and orchestrated. The slow middle movement alone could be used as teaching material in a masterclass on thematic and harmonic presentation, development and closure. How Respighi brings everything to rest at the end is simply breathtaking. I've read many negative reviews of this work, claiming it to be too long, unfocused and meandering. Obviously these naysayers don't understand symphonic argument, or only appreciate music with "bling" in it. This can stand head to head with composers like Richard Strauss and Mahler.

I very much enjoy conductor John Neschling's account of Respighi's Roman Trilogy (reviewed here), and although this new recording is with a different orchestra, it still delivers the same beautiful sonic radiance and power. It is after all a well engineered BIS recording. The dark brass chords that open the slow movement are impressive, and the overall sound of the strings is always opulent and luminous. Highly recommended. If you like the music of Respighi, this will make you appreciate him even more as a meticulous composer, simply doing what he does best. Writing great music, plain and simple.

Jean-Yves Duperron - August 2016