Vladimir Ashkenazy / Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra

Respighi: Pines of Rome; Fountains of Rome; Roman Festivals

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Of all Respighi's vibrantly orchestrated works, the so-called Roman Trilogy -- and in particular the Pines of Rome -- is by far the best known and most frequently performed. Respighi was a keen observer of nature and his surroundings and translated these observations into highly evocative, descriptive tone poems. He was also rather taken by ancient music and instruments, and included glimpses of early music modes and even scored Pines for six "bucinae" (ancient Roman trumpets), though they are rarely used in modern performance. The present Exton recording features Vladimir Ashkenazy leading the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland. Ashkenazy's vision of the Roman Trilogy is not exceptionally different from many other recordings available. Apart from an occasional slower-than-expected choice of tempo is an enjoyably solid, straightforward performance. Some of the more exposed passages for the violins reveal a bit of an issue with intonation and ensemble, but this does not greatly detract from the generally polished performance. What does set this recording apart from others is its sound quality. If ever there was an orchestral piece that would benefit from multichannel playback, it's Pines and the rest of the Trilogy. Listeners enjoying the five-channel DSD SACD layer will be immersed in sound as close to a live performance as could be expected. The robust, powerful brass playing surrounds you, and the deep, forceful organ entrances are enough to vibrate the walls. The sound quality on the standard two-channel track is still clear and rich, but lacks that special encompassing nature found only on the multichannel track.

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