Respighi (1879-1936) was one of the great orchestra composers of Italy (a nation whose composers are more often associated with opera). Born into a family of professional musicians, Respighi was educated with greats such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Max Bruch. Deriving inspiration from the likes of Richard Strauss as well as ancient and medieval musical styles, Respighi showed great talent as a composer as well as an arranger and synthesiser of new presentations for old music. Such is the case with the pieces in this recording, Ancient Airs and Dances.
--Ancient Airs and Dances--
This has become one of the more popular pieces of Respighi in the late twentieth century; many know Respighi only through these works, and others have heard this music without knowing the origin or Respighi's role in their presentation. Largely deriving from Italian and French music for the lute, the original melody lines and pieces come from seventeenth and eighteenth century. The piece consists of three suites of four pieces each, the first two for orchestra and the third for strings. (All three suites were made into a ballet shortly after Respighi's death by his wife and student, Elsa, in 1937.)
There is great simplicity in the music here. Yet there is also grand texture. The music follows a logical progression and throws in few surprises, but is a delight in the journey through the tunes as would be a stroll through a familiar, favourite park. The tempo varies between pieces, sometimes lively and sometimes sombre. For this particular recording the tempo is a bit slower overall than I am used to, but it has a pleasant effect overall.
Dorati made so many recordings he lost track of them. Working with a wide range of composers' works, from Tchiakovsky to Bartok to Copland, he used his early European training to great effect as the head of symphonies in Dallas, Detriot, and Minneapolis, in addition to heading the National Symphony in Washington, DC in the 1970s. Many classical music enthusiasts grew up with Dorati recordings of classic as well as modern/new compositions.
The Philharmonia Hungarica grew out of refugee musicians from Hungary after the 1956 uprising forced hundreds to flee the country. Dorati's Hungarian background as well as reputation and contacts in the West made him a natural leader for this fledgling group, who made this Respighi recording less than two years after leaving Hungary. Like Dorati, the Philharmonia Hungarica had so many recordings it was difficult to keep track of them all. Possessing talented people with training from the East and West, they play with skill and grace that is a true joy to hear.
This is a CD rendering of a previously recorded vinyl record. It was recorded in 1958 utilising three microphones on separate channels; the original tapes were preserved by Mercury recording and remixed for the CD without filtering, equalisation, limiting or compression. I had an audio cassette of this same recording a decade ago; the CD is obviously much better, but the musical integrity is strong on both recording media.
on December 9, 1999
Another listener, reviewing the Neville Marriner version of these three suites by Ottorino Respighi, called it "the most beautiful music one is likely to hear" or the like. And it is. The Penguin Guide to Classical CDs awarded this famous and magnificent recording a Rosette (its "Academy Award", so to speak). It is, simply put, almost achingly beautiful music: sometimes austere, sometimes brusque, often haunting and enchanting, or full-heartedly joyous; delectably scored (Respighi was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov), stunningly played, and favored with so rich a recording quality that it hardly seems possible the recordings were made in the 1950s! This is music that soothes the spirit, engages the mind and feeds the soul--- a must for anyone who can truly appreciate-- and it SHOULD be capitalized!-- Beauty. All the recorded versions of this music are delectable and this particular version is the benchmark by which the others are judged! A true desert island recording!
on May 20, 2000
This music should be in everyone's collection. To me, it is that basic. Respighi went to ancient sources, collected various melodies (such as the French love songs in SUITE NO. 3), then he arranged this is three suites or airs and dances. The Dorati version is exquisitely well played and very well recorded. The resulting product, a ravishing, hauntingly beautiful record... delicately beautiful. The tempos are natural and gay... sad when they have to be, but always natural. The playing is never rushed, always andante cantabile. This version should be in everyone's collection. (Compare with the equally beautiful Ozawa version on DGG).