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CD Review

Ottorino Respighi

Roman Triptych

  • Pines of Rome
  • Fountains of Rome
  • Metamorphoseon Modi XII
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Jesús López-Cobos
Telarc CD-80505
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I'm beginning to think that Jesús López-Cobos was the victim of his own industry. His earliest recordings for Telarc were overshadowed by names like Lorin Maazel – and orchestras like Cleveland and Berlin – and by the time Telarc gave him their best sonics and packaging, the market was flooded from its own stupidity. None of this was the fault of the conductor, and the truth is that he remains a fine musician who doesn't get much attention regardless of where he is. Never really considered a top-talent by critics, it's clear that he has genuine ideas in this music.

For the first few movements, the conductor's Pines of Rome is as beautiful as any in the active catalog. The piano and other evocative effects are as alluring as I have ever heard them. Sure, other conductors like the aforementioned Maazel (on Decca) and Reiner (RCA) have more vigorous, sometimes even visceral orchestral playing, but this is delightful. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is one of the finest in the nation despite – like their former leader – not getting a ton of attention. Here they play with commitment and great tonal beauty, aided by sound quality rarely afforded to these pieces. First-desk playing is equally remarkable. In Pines of the Appian Way, the textures remain astoundingly clear, but the percussion is way too recessed, spoiling some predictably terrific brass playing. Compare this to other versions, and you'll be amazed at how much clearer all the orchestral voices sound. It makes the dampened percussion all the more puzzling.

In Fountains of Rome, percussion is less of a concern, and one can simply focus on the beautiful, shimmering sounds on display. Jesús López-Cobos paces the work extremely well, and gives the whole piece a real sense of atmosphere and sparkle. Again, the brass and strings make an incredibly forceful impression – this orchestra's Mahler #3 is a real sleeper pick – but the woodwinds are also very good. Maybe Muti and Reiner make a stronger impression at the "big moments" in both works, but in terms of sonic splendor both men must yield to Telarc's superior engineering.

Instead of Roman Festivals, Jesús López-Cobos and his team give us Metamorphoseon Modi XII. It's an inventive and surprisingly intimate partner to the two resplendent tone poems. One of many commissions for the Boston Symphony Orchestra's 50th Anniversary, it's rarely played or recorded. God knows why not; the piece is emotionally gripping while giving the soloists of the orchestra a real chance to shine. The conductor and his Cincinnati forces give one of the finest readings currently on disc, and the sound remains a marvel. While not the flashiest Respighi program on the market, it's certainly underrated, and a great buy for those who demand top-quality sound.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman