The Suite for Strings in G minor and the Suite in G for Strings and Organ receive excellent, beautifully-recorded performances. The big question is, what did La Vecchia do with the Roman Trilogy and The Birds? Is there some reason to buy this set if you're not a completionist? The surprising answer is, Yes.
Surprising, because as I listened, it took time for La Vecchia to win me over to a consistent conceit of his: remarkably slow tempi for the quieter movements. E.g., the Janiculum section of Pines, at 9:17, is arguably the slowest ever recorded, and we see similarly slow tempi in Feste's Jubilee and October Festival (except for the mandolin serenade, which enters abruptly as the fastest anyone has taken the triple meter). The outer movements of Fountains, ditto. Natural reaction to a listener who owns every available recording (and out of print ones): after the first few bars, you think "Boy, this is dragging" ... until you notice all the gorgeous details in the sonic fabric that were obliterated by the other interpreters. Inner voices, phrase shapings, beauty formerly unrecognized. My go-to Birds is the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's take (and it's still a keeper), but La Vecchia makes other versions seem rushed because so much is lost at the quicker tempi we're accustomed to.
Although an organ work is part of this two-CD set (more to come in this CD series by Brilliant Classics, FYI), the Roman trilogy lacks any organ (which is exposed at the climax of Circenses when it's used -- omitting it might work here, but not when La Vecchia records Vetrate di Chiesa later in this series). La Vecchia takes Respighi at his word in Circenses, to the effect that the martyr's hymn prevails until drowned in the tumult. La Vecchia therefore emphasizes it, phrasing it carefully and making it the focal point, not the brass snarling in dissonant convolutions around the string theme. The horns are bit more recessed in this movement than I like, and even the climax is slower than most (compare the reckless pace taken by Goosens at the climax -- who also omits the pipe organ). La Befana here isn't the best on record, a bit slower than most, but gaining some clarity at the expense of tempo. The final saltarello isn't as exciting as others have delivered it (Goosens, Muti, Maazel with Cleveland, etc.), but the brass fanfares suddenly kick up the tempo into the coda, making the syncopations even more violent than usual. In other words, like John Neschling, La Vecchia plays some games with tempo changes -- and perhaps it's fair to say that La Vecchia's affectations make more sense (Neschling's accelerando in Jubilee was a Jumble).
One would think there's an authoritative air about any Respighi project being performed by the putative orchestra of Rome (the city being Respighi's adopted home town, although it took time before he was won over by it). And I believe this CD set satisfies that requirement in an interesting way, by setting new standards and allowing us to actually HEAR what Respighi wrote in many instances. P.S., for those who prefer their Roman Trilogy to be chock full of deep organ pedals, opt for the Royal Philharmonic under Josep Caballe-Domenech. That is one point Cabbale-Domenech's version has going for it (also true for Malcolm Sargent's early stereo era version).
But Caballe-Domenech's idiosyncrasies don't make as much sense as La Vecchia's, despite La Vecchia's extreme take on slower tempi (counterintuitive, yes, but true nonetheless -- even for The Birds where new details come to the fore that are stunning in their poetic effect -- pace, Orpheus C.O.). Even the Via Appia in Pines, while slower than usual (at first), brings out details (deep piano tones ring longer and more profoundly than usual, the cor anglais is phrased with more emotion, etc.) that make slowing down to smell the roses worth the extra time. La Vecchia gives us the intimate detail of Antonio Pappano (and more) without sacrificing orchestral force when Respighi calls for it. At this price, it's a no-brainer. So... when's Volume 2 coming out?
(Note: although the description claims this was recorded in 2009, that's only true for The Birds and the two string suites -- the Roman Trilogy was recorded in 2010. The enclosed booklet, written in a galvanizing way to make its subject interesting, is fine for those new to Respighi, but experienced listeners are not likely to learn anything new from it. A few typos mar the booklet -- I guess printers' devils hate classical music.)