July 2000

Respighi - Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome, Metamorphoseon Modi XII
Jesús López-Cobos, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Telarc CD-80505
Released: 2000

by Neil Walker

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Do music and politics mix? Of course they do. Songs of freedom are a part of every era’s musical landscape. The American struggle for equality, for workers’ rights and for freedom from oppression inescapably influenced popular and academic American music.

Likewise, though perhaps less inspirational, the music of Richard Wagner resonated for Adolf Hitler as did the music of Ottorino Respighi for Alberto Mussolini. Although many sins can be ascribed to Wagner’s personal views, Respighi himself was no fascist. While a recent edition of BBC Music Magazine features artwork that implies an association between the dictator and the musician, there is no truth to the accusation. In fact, the article instigated a bitter exchange of letters between the magazine and a friend of Respighi’s widow, who took up the cause and demonstrated conclusively that Respighi was anything but a fascist. Check out his response at www.musicweb.force9.co.uk/music/respighi/bbc.htm.

While we may not be able to understand Mussolini’s evil ways, we can at least understand his appreciation for Respighi, who was a superb orchestrator and melodist. His death in 1936 at the age of 57 certainly left the world poorer. His music -- stirring, melodic, and accessible -- is tinged with enough dissonance to place him firmly within the 20th century. His triptych of tone poems, "The Pines of Rome," "The Fountains of Rome" and "The Hills of Rome" are staple pieces of orchestras around the world.

Telarc has released an interesting combination of "The Pines of Rome," "The Fountains of Rome," and a lesser-known piece. The release is titled "Metamorphoseon Modi XII," and is a suite of theme and variations. Telarc’s quality is distinguishable. Every instrument is audible, and the soundstage is realistic. "Pines of the Villa Borghese" is vivid; López-Cobos never loses its vigor from its first note to its climactic and abrupt ending, and after the concluding outburst of the "Villapine," "Pines Near a Catacomb" begins somberly until the piece climbs to a shattering, full-orchestra crescendo. Part of the special attraction of Respighi’s music is its suddenly quiet evocation of mood after such stirring tutti passages.

The "Metamorphoseon Modi XII," which the Boston Symphony Orchestra commissioned to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1929, consists of a theme and 12 variations. The theme, andante moderato, is a simple melody that passes through a set of variations that take more than a casual listener to follow. It is worth noting that López-Cobos continues to lead the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s forces across a huge dynamic range.

This recording is lively, full of variety and sensitive to Respighi’s spirit. The "Metamorphoseon Modi XII" adds a new dimension of understanding for fans whose experience of Respighi has so far not strayed beyond the chestnuts, such as "Pines and Fountains".