John Neschling / Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège

Respighi: Sinfonia Drammatica; Belfagor Overture

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Ottorino Respighi's Sinfonia Drammatica was a fairly early work, composed in 1914. Respighi had already begun to experiment with sounds drawn from early music, and the lighter textures he developed would soon be deployed in his evergreen Roman tone poems and other orchestral works. The Sinfonia Drammatica, however, is a behemoth: an hour long, with a huge orchestra and massive bass drum strokes in the finale. The structure is cyclical, and the effect is as if Wagner had begun a symphony, picking up where César Franck had left off in his Symphony in D minor, and then Strauss had finished it off. There is not a shred of programmatic content. Sample around in the "Allegro impetuoso" finale for a taste. This release is part of a series by conductor John Neschling; some of the better-known Respighi works were recorded with Brazilian ensembles, but here Neschling leads the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, recording in its own sonically sumptuous Salle Philharmonique. The effect is satisfying, and the reading is rich with both detail and forward drive. The work may not be to everyone's taste, and even for Respighi it seems to have represented the culmination of a phase in his career that was then set aside. But give yourself over to it in this fine recording, and it may grow on you.

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