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Here’s both an unusually useful collection as well as one graced with the highest artistic standards. Both the outsize, Straussian grandeur of Respighi (exemplified by The Pines of Rome) as well as his neo-Classicising delicacy (in the Ancient Airs and Dances) are well-represented on record, but such are their contrasting qualities, few conductors are equipped to acquit themselves successfully in both contexts, and there are commensurately few recorded collections available which offer so complete a summation of Respighi’s diverse but always delightful art.
The Hungarian conductor Antal Doráti was, however, one such. Best known for his championing of Haydn, he and the Philharmonia Hungarica (his hand-picked chamber orchestra for the pioneering cycles of symphonies and operas), are ideally equipped to bring the necessary wit and charm to Respighi’s transformations of early-Barock and Renaissance melodies, which he clothes in more modern orchestral apparel while never over-burdening them with anachronistic velvet or silk.
The tone poems, however, rejoice in the punch of a great orchestra, particularly its brass section. The Minneapolis SO may not have the renown of its London counterpart, but, trained up by Dmitri Mitropoulos, it was one of the most virtuosic and thrilling-sounding US orchestras when Doráti took over from Mitropoulos as principal conductor in 1949. He was there for 11 years and made many recordings, which, not least thanks to the brilliance of their recorded sound, have justly survived the vicissitudes of the recorded classical catalogue.
This is a most valuable reissue for fans of Respighi and of spectacular orchestral playing.
“Respighi’s generous but sensitive application of modern colour, both harmonic and orchestral, benefits enormously from the sonorous and widespread front put up by this recording, which features the many excellent players of the Philharmonia Hungarica. This orchestra is largely composed of Hungarian refugee musicians domiciled at the time of the recording in Vienna, and it is most appropriate that they should be conducted by Doráti.” Gramophone Magazine, April 1960
Ancient Airs and Dances, Suites Nos. 1, 2 & 3
Fountains of Rome
Pines of Rome