Respighi: Roman Trilogy - Wilson

Respighi: Roman Trilogy - Wilson

Chandos  CHSA 5261

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Respighi: Roman Trilogy

Sinfonia of London
John Wilson, conductor

Following the widespread critical acclaim of their first two recordings – including a BBC Music Magazine Award – John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London turn to Respighi’s Roman Trilogy for their third release. Born in Bologna in 1879, Respighi trained as a violinist and composer, and travelled extensively. His influences are therefore wide-ranging, from Richard Strauss and Debussy to Rimsky-Korsakov (who taught him orchestration) in addition to a love of – and fascination with – Plainsong and music of the Italian baroque.

Fountains of Rome was the first of these three great tone poems, composed between 1913 and 1916, and inspired by a series of photographs given to him by the artist Edita Broglio. Intensely programmatic, the work sees Respighi setting out to evoke ‘sentiments and visions suggested… by four of Rome’s fountains contemplated at the hour in which their character is most in harmony with the surrounding landscape, or in which their beauty appears most impressive to the observer’. Pines of Rome was completed in 1924 – a particularly turbulent time in Italy, following Mussolini’s appointment as Prime Minister, in 1922. Like Fountains, the work is explicitly programmatic, set in four sections, and calling for extremely large orchestral forces – including a gramophone recording of a nightingale in the third movement.

Roman Festivals was premiered in 1928 by the New York Philharmonic under Toscanini, who was a great supporter of Respighi and regularly performed his works throughout his career. Again, in four parts, Festivals calls for the largest orchestration of all, including a vast array of percussion as well as organ, four-hand piano and mandolin.

Despite some negative criticism (particularly in the UK) when they were first introduced, these works have found favour with concert goers around the world and been regularly performed ever since – indeed, they have perhaps proven much more highly valued by conductors and audiences than by the critics!


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Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - July 28, 2020

John Wilson’s two recordings on SACD with the Sinfonia of London, the first of music by Korngold Korngold: Symphony - Wilson and the second of French orchestral works Escales: French Orchestral Works - Wilson, have garnered numerous accolades not only for the quality of the performances but also for the superb sound quality that the Chandos engineers accorded him and his hand-picked orchestra. That body, relaunched as a recording orchestra in 2018, comprises of an outstanding group of musicians who meet several times a year for specific projects. The orchestra includes a significant number of principals and leaders from orchestras based both in the UK and abroad alongside notable soloists and members of distinguished chamber groups. The fresh and persuasive playing displayed by these musicians in the first two recordings are now brought to bear on the music of Ottorino Respighi.

For his third recording with this orchestra Wilson has chosen the three symphonic poems that comprise Respighi’s Roman trilogy – The Fountains of Rome (1914-16), the Pines of Rome (1923-24) and Feste Romane (1928). Though these evocative and stunning orchestral show pieces have been recorded countless times and championed by many distinguished conductors of the past, they never fail to make an impression whether in the concert hall or on disc.

Most recordings of the Roman trilogy place the three works in the order of their composition but on this disc Feste Romane, for a reason not apparent to me, is presented first. Its opening movement ‘Circences’ is performed with an astonishing attack and ferocity that will pin you to your seat. This typifies Wilson’s propulsive and consistently dynamic approach to the music throughout these accounts. It is worth mentioning here that the full weight of the organ pedal notes used by Respighi at various points in these scores is appropriately floor trembling on this Chandos disc, something that is often lacking in some rival versions. As a manipulator of musical sonorities Wilson is an absolute master and he captures the various moods of this music and its expressive potential with unerring skill. His tempi, though fleet-footed, are convincingly flexible and ensure that the sensuously luxurious textures of, for example, the outer movements of the Fountains of Rome, are not short-changed.

In all three of these works it is clear that Wilson knows exactly what he wants and his players oblige with commendable enthusiasm. The Sinfonia of London has a lustrous sound that is cohesive and impeccably blended. Its musicians clearly revel in the virtuosity that Respighi requires of them producing wonderfully manicured orchestral timbres that do full justice to the wealth of beguiling orchestral effects present in these scores.

The excellence of Wilson’s Sinfonia of London response to these sonically opulent pieces is matched by that of the recorded sound superbly engineered in 24-bit / 96KHz and 5.0 channel surround by engineer Ralph Couzens. The venue was the Church of St Augustine Kilburn, London (2-7 September 2019). The acoustic of the church provides a wonderful sense of space that remains open, vivid and detailed even in the heaviest orchestral climaxes and there are many of those in these three pieces. Photographs of the recording sessions in the accompanying booklet show the orchestra packed into the nave with the additional brass in the gallery.

Wilson’s only direct competition on multi-channel SACD (which is what this music surely requires) is the excellent BIS version recorded in 2008 from John Neschling and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. Some might prefer Neschling’s less dynamic approach to these scores while others would miss the visceral thrill of Wilson’s galvanic conducting. Respighi aficionados will want both versions in their collections together with the classic 1959 Reiner recording of the Fountains and the Pines, in one of its iterations, that still sounds amazing sixty years on!

These vivid and compelling performances can be enthusiastically recommended.

Copyright © 2020 Graham Williams and


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Comments (41)

Comment by Gordon Lilley - August 27, 2020 (21 of 41)

Drink coaster material? I suggest he stop drinking before it's too late. I have just listened to most of this disc and can report that it sounds magnificent. This was the two channel layer but I'm looking forward to listening to the surround for comparison.

Comment by Paul Hannah - August 29, 2020 (22 of 41)

Well said ! He has no time for Solti doing Mahler either however I find Solti & Bernstein similar in approach both have fire in their belly and I love their performances !

Comment by Aastroem - August 30, 2020 (23 of 41)

Hurwitz is opinionated, but he is entitled to his opinions. I often agree with him and I often don't. I very seldom rely on the reviews on this site though and it is so typical that you are being rude as soon as someone disagrees with you. This is so immature and narrow minded. I worked as a professional music critic for about 40 years and I loved having disussions with the readers. But as soon as someone told me that my opinion was wrong the discussion ended.

Comment by hiredfox - September 1, 2020 (24 of 41)

Hold on a bit old chap, the few regular reviewers that we have on here are first class and understand hi-res music recordings and the needs of this constituency better than anybody whereas many long serving critics have had little understanding of or interest in hi-res; the SQ quality of a recording is as important as the interpretation for many collectors.

Of course music means nothing if it falls on deaf ears accidentally or intentionally. Most readers do not want opinions on music appreciation, they want to know what other people hear and how they were affected by it.

I have no opinion of Mr Hurwitz other than that he has access (privileged) to a public platform and appears sometimes to use it to court controversy.

Comment by Aastroem - September 2, 2020 (25 of 41)

Hiredfox, you say that Hurwitz is seldom correct and you call a person who thinks that hi-rez is unnecessary an idiot. What an open mind you display.

Comment by hiredfox - September 3, 2020 (26 of 41)

I didn't say either of those things if you read my entry closely. Why have you adopted a confrontational tone in an otherwise civil discussion?

Comment by Tony Reif - September 3, 2020 (27 of 41)

Hiredfox, you wrote: "Most readers do not want opinions on music appreciation, they want to know what other people hear and how they were affected by it." Sure, that's what comments are great for. But reviews, well, if they're worth reading they have to involve some "music appreciation", i.e. expert commentary on the interest and value of a particular work and performance. Critics like Hurwitz who have the extensive experience, knowledge, musical memory and analytic capacity to characterize the overall conception and hone in on the details that make one performance really stand out from others are to be valued, even if we may sometimes disagree with their assessments. Whether Hurwitz "courts controversy" or is opinionated is itself a matter of opinion, and around here is usually asserted to dismiss his objections to records that HRA reviewers have praised. Certainly Hurwitz never pulls punches, which might annoy people who prefer more civil/genteel evaluations. His sound quality ratings are another matter. In a long interview online he says that these days he mostly listens on a portable system, but always spot checks a record on his speaker system before rating the sound (I wish he'd publish his main system components.) With orchestral recordings he doesn't prioritize audiophile qualities over questions of balance - i.e. that important detail is clearly audible. Discussions of the resolution of DSD256 vs DSD64 or DXD or even 24/96 would probably strike him as irrelevant, if he could hear the difference. WE all value these distinctions, we want to be thrilled by the sound, but sometimes it seems as if the sound has become the point, rather than the music/performance.

Sound adoration is a lovable fetish. But there's 30+ years of great music that was recorded in 16/44.1 and will never be truly high-res no matter how it's remastered. One of the best reasons to maximize our playback is to get the most out of these recordings, so that they can really move us again.

Comment by hiredfox - September 4, 2020 (28 of 41)

Fair enough Tony, points taken on-board. I relied on the 'established' expert opinion before the internet and social media gave everyone a voice.

Even when there was only The Gramophone & The Penguin Guide one used to learn which reviewers could be trusted and which ones could not from one's own perspective.

In the end it is all a matter of taste, even the most expert musicologist are only guessing at the composer's intentions.

Comment by breydon_music - September 4, 2020 (29 of 41)

One other positive comment on all this - I take great heart from the fact that here and in other threads on this site (such as the Schumann Gurzenich Orchestra issue) we seem to be learning how to have conversations with each other again despite the limitations of the site and the wishes of its designer. I am enjoying this and I am the wiser for it. Long may it last!

Comment by Aastroem - September 4, 2020 (30 of 41)

Hiredfox, I copied a text from someone who thought that hi rez is unnecessary and your comment to that article was: "What an idiot! (ref: link)" This is copied from your comment. Feel free to think so, but don't lie about what you said and not.

Comment by hiredfox - September 4, 2020 (31 of 41)

Good heavens Aastroem, whatever is the matter with you? Lighten up and enjoy the forum for what it is.

Comment by Athenaeus - September 4, 2020 (32 of 41)

Yes, Aastroem, could we please just move on? This argument is becoming tiresome. You expressed your opinion and so did Hiredfox. The other users of this site can now mull over your respective positions and make up their own minds.

Comment by Mark Werlin - September 7, 2020 (33 of 41)

Following up on Hiredfox's statement "In the end it is all a matter of taste, even the most expert musicologist are only guessing at the composer's intentions."

Fortunately for those of us who write reviews for this site, we don't always have to guess at those intentions. Composers, performers, and conductors contribute liner notes to their albums. Liner note essays and published interviews are helpful in writing reviews, and preparing my own listening sessions to new or unfamiliar music.

Let's not forget that this is a disastrous time for musical arts organizations. Disagreements with a particular album review or that reviewer's sensibilities should not deter us from sharing our enthusiasm for SACDs, the sales of which support, in a small way, financially threatened musical organizations.

Comment by hiredfox - September 8, 2020 (34 of 41)

I accept that fully Mark and agree wholeheartedly with your call to support the continued viability of SACD.

In that sense this 'forum' can and must play a crucial role, the more it is used, the better the quality of debates then the better the chances of attracting key players to the debate and securing their commitment, as we have seen recently with the newly released Myriad SACD. Losing Bissie has been a bitter blow for example. I still remember the days when Maestro Andrew Litton was a regular correspondent.

At times I despair at the lack of 'traffic' on here so if I am accused of writing too much or too provocatively my underlying intention has been to stimulate discussion to try and keep this place alive. The lockdown seems to have helped in that respect recently.

Meanwhile our SACD collection continues to grow at an inexorable and eccentric rate, nearly 1,500 now which has long since surpassed any of our previous collections of Vinyl and CD. At a time in life when most sensible people think in terms of down-sizing and decluttering my wife and I seem hell bent on once again running out of space to organise our lives properly. Long may it last.

Comment by Aastroem - September 9, 2020 (35 of 41)

The text of this comment has been deleted by the moderator. Reason:

Be civil or I’ll delete your logon. Last warning.

Comment by hiredfox - September 10, 2020 (36 of 41)

There is regrettably no moderation of this site to deal with this kind of libellous personal on-line abuse from people hiding behind pseudonyms. I hope, Steven, you will see these entries and take some firm action against the individual to make sure this kind of abuse is nipped in the bud. I cannot be the only one who is astonished and disappointed by this unwarranted personal attack on me from an anonymous person. I will certainly be seeking advice on what action can be done privately.

A forum that allows personal abuse is not worth participating in so with my apologies and regrets I am taking my leave.

Comment by Tony Reif - September 10, 2020 (37 of 41)

Oh for goodness sake Hiredfox don't be so thin-skinned! And Aastroem, you're trolling the wrong site with this simplistic, pseudo-scientific drivel. Do you really think we'd all be here if we couldn't hear the difference between 16/44.1 and high-res formats? And it doesn't depend on having young ears - I can't hear anything above 12K and I have no problem distinguishing between the same recording in say 24/192 and DSD64; I have also heard how MQA is less good than the 24/96 file it was encoded from. Of course, you have to have very good playback equipment, and you have to have trained your ears to notice the differences, and you have to value differences that to some people might be trivial. But don't just believe me, read up on high-end digital audio design for the various scientific explanations this article ignores.

Comment by john hunter - September 10, 2020 (38 of 41)

Can everyone just calm down and take a nice deep breath !!!
My all means disagree but that should not include abuse.

Comment by Athenaeus - September 10, 2020 (39 of 41)

Yes, why don't we all put on something nice and quiet, like some Erik Satie, and just relax?

Comment by Mark Werlin - September 15, 2020 (40 of 41)

Music to calm the troubled spirit. Sor: Late works for Guitar - William Carter

A relaxing set of works adapted for clarinet and piano: Nocturne - Duo Aeternica

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