This is a real sleeper pick among the great recorded versions of the three "Roman" tone poems. Sure, nobody is going to mistake Massimo Freccia for Fritz Reiner, but the New Philharmonia plays extremely well for him. Freccia understands this better than anyone; he simply lets his legendary orchestra play, and it works as stupendously as you might expect. Considering how scrappy the group could sound under an ailing Klemperer, you have to see this as something special. Festivals is pretty thrilling, although Maazel on Decca is still my top pick. Fountains features the fabled Philharmonia winds in glorious form, and the end result is clearly first-rate. The sound is marvelous for the late 60's, and just as good compared to what's on the market now.
As for Kempe's Pines of Rome, it's the real reason to own this CD. Originally on Reader's Digest LPs, and then released here, it was last seen on Profil coupled with Chopin in an apparent effort to make sure it sold zero copies. It sounds absolutely fantastic, even on this 1988 Chesky production, and in any event makes much more sense with the rest of the trilogy. The Royal Philharmonic is hardly my first choice for these potboilers now, so the fact that this was taped in 1968 boggles the mind. Kempe wasn't exactly Reiner either, but he had one of the best ears for color that ever graced a podium. All the splashy effects are highlighted throughout, and it's all capped by a wonderfully built and impressively sustained conclusion.
If you need these works complete and under one conductor, there's Muti, Ormandy, and Maazel's later recordings on Sony. But if you're willing to take a risk and find this album, it is entirely worth it. The disc notes are unimpressive, and multiple tracks for each poem would have also been nice. In the end however, this offering from Chesky is still close to as good as it gets.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman