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Respighi: Trittico Botticelliano, 3 Corali, Pini Di Roma / Stefan Blunier, Beethoven Orchester Bonn

Release Date: 08/16/2011 
Label:  Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm)   Catalog #: 9371677   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ottorino Respighi
Conductor:  Stefan Blunier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Beethoven Orchestra Bonn
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RESPIGHI Trittico botticelliano . 3 Chorales by J. S. Bach. Pines of Rome Stefan Blunier, cond; Beethoven O Bonn MDG 937 1677 (SACD: 56:00) Live: Bonn 3/12–14/2010, 6/10–11/2010

Here is something both unexpected and quite extraordinary. The Beethoven Orchestra Bonn would not seem the obvious orchestra to record Respighi; the bright, highly saturated colors of the Italian composer and musicologist seem out of character for a conductor and Read more ensemble that have up until now recorded late-Romantic German repertoire. So it turns out, but not as I anticipated. Unexpectedly, this is Respighi with a lighter touch: glowing, buoyant, sparkling, refined, transparent, energetic but never rushed, and absolutely charming. It is also a prospectus of three of Respighi’s compositional preoccupations: his “new old music” reflections on earlier Italian compositions, his admiration for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and his exploitation of the myriad sonorities of the modern symphony orchestra.

The concert begins with the Trittico botticelliano . Blunier has clearly rethought Respighi’s musical reflections on the three Sandro Botticelli paintings. Where his predecessors have typically striven for brilliance, attempting to make these portraits sound like small-band versions of the Roman trilogy, Blunier reflects in sound the elegant formality and subdued color of Botticelli’s creations. There is no lack of energy or volume when called for, but, for instance, the Renaissance dances of the central section of “La Primavera” are slowed to match the courtly demeanor of the three Graces in the painting. It is perfect. So is the distinct characterization of each wise man’s variation of Veni Emmanuel in the “Adoration of the Magi,” and the ever-so-gradual growth of the various melodies, derived from the opening motif, over the undulating rhythm of the waves gently bearing Venus ashore in the “Birth of Venus.”

The arrangements of three organ chorale preludes by J. S. Bach are even more impressive for their restraint. These are often treated, when they are performed at all, as Stokowski-brand Technicolor showpieces. Blunier’s noble, measured-but-never-heavy performances bring to mind those first “authentic” early-music performances of the 1940s, which Respighi helped to inspire. Each is beautifully shaped, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland with a subtle crescendo and decrescendo, Meine Seele erhebt den Herren with a light tread and bouncing rhythm, and Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme with sensitive phrasing and a glorious climax of brass and low strings made all the more thrilling by the care with which it was prepared.

There are of course many recordings of the Pines of Rome for the collector to choose from, and there are a number of them that offer broad dynamic range and an emphasis on transparency of texture. While this opening “Pines of the Villa Borghese” is unusual only for its sparkling clarity—listen to the pianos so often hidden—there are few performances quite as shadowy and mysterious in the “Pines Near a Catacomb,” or as tranquil and nocturnal in the “Pines of the Janiculum.” Blunier’s often hushed dynamics and marvelously sustained slow tempos create the magic. The “Pines of the Appian Way” are also measured, the transition from the third movement magical, and the build-up to the climax, with blazing horns and drums pounding, is quite exhilarating. Only the anemic contribution of the organ disappoints. The tempos are not wildly out of norm: Bernstein and Maazel (both Sony) and Pappano (EMI) are nearly as slow in the last three movements. Muti (EMI) is actually more measured in the “Pines of the Janiculum.” Yet what Blunier does here is remarkable, and he does it by taking the music seriously. It won’t be to all tastes; those seeking a sonic spectacular should look elsewhere.

The MDG engineers have provided a truthful representation of a concert hall from midway back: open, natural, and detailed. Because of the wide dynamics, it does need to be played at a higher than usual level if it is not to seem distant and a bit pale. The surround layer is used imaginatively to place distant trumpets, the nightingale, and the blazing Roman brass in believable space. The orchestra is highly responsive to its music director, and while nobody will mistake the members of the Bonn orchestra for their counterparts in Berlin, they acquit themselves well. I should mention that Fanfare critics have not been as impressed with MDG’s other recordings with Blunier, which I have not heard, as I am with this one. Still, based only on his Respighi, I say that Blunier is a conductor to watch.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Trittico botticelliano by Ottorino Respighi
Conductor:  Stefan Blunier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Beethoven Orchestra Bonn
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927; Rome, Italy 
Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi
Conductor:  Stefan Blunier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Beethoven Orchestra Bonn
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923-1924; Rome, Italy 
Corali (3) by Ottorino Respighi
Conductor:  Stefan Blunier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Beethoven Orchestra Bonn
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Italy 
Notes: Three organ Chorale Preludes by Bach, 'Nun komm der Heiden Heiland', 'Meine Seele erhebt den Herren' and 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme' interpolated and arranged for orchestra by Respighi.  

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