The Good: Good melodies and orchestrations, Good mix of music
The Bad: Volume is way off
The Basics: A dud of a recording, this disc was poorly engineered to the point of being inaudible in too many places.
I have a very limited knowledge of the works of Ottorino Respighi. Indeed, before I raided my father's classical music collection for everything he had of Respighi's, all I had heard was an amazing piece played once on my Public Radio Station. The piece was called "Metamorphosia" and the rendition I heard was absolutely amazing. It was a long, sweeping piece that went through an entire orchestra, with a myriad of tempos. It was truly a transformation set to music.
So, I was eager when I found a recording of the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy in my father's collection. I wanted to hear more Respighi, even if my father did not have "Metamorphosia." Unfortunately, from almost the first moment I began playing this disc, I was disappointed. After the first track, the volume falls off severely. Not only are the pieces more sublime, but the actual volume of the tracks plummets. I originally played the disc in my car while driving and I had the disc turned up to sixteen (four is loud for me!) and I couldn't hear a thing. So, I took it out at home for the subsequent listens and found the recording to be problematic there, in the quiet of my house, too! Through much of the disc, the instrumentals are inaudible, even with the volume turned up almost to full on my stereo!
With three suites, over twelve movements (tracks), Pini Di Roma, in this recording clocks out at just under an hour.
Pini Di Roma begins with "I pini di Villa Borghese," a rousing brass and cymbal exhortation that acts as a fanfare. It erupts with sound that swirls around energetically to introduce the suite. There is a very noble, almost celebratory, feel to this first piece and it is enough to energize the listener.
It is too bad, then, that it crashes abruptly into "I pini presso una catacomba," the second movement. On this recording, the piece is so soft that the instrumentals of the woodwinds that take over after the rousing brass of track 1 are almost inaudible for the first two minutes. Then, clarinets, flutes and light trumpets creep in like a dawn, slowly building to a crescendo that is, at its worst, audible. Unfortunately, the light volume and meandering melody of the piece leave no impression and after several listens to the disc, I gave up trying to evaluate it, much less hear it. Near the end, it does reach an almost empiric sense of grandeur - and volume - but without the contrast of the beginning the effect is diminished.
Track three, "I pini del Gianicolo" is no better. It is quiet and after eight listens, I detect a lone violin, oboe and clarinet in the early portion, but other than that, the tune meanders below any listenable level until four minutes in. Then, the violins and light woodwinds sweep in like a breeze wafting clouds over a knoll. The piece is pastoral and simple and by the time it reaches a decibel level where it can be heard, any sense of continuity for the movement is utterly shattered.
On "I pini della Via Appia" the problem persists and it is worth noting here that: 1. No, my ears are not clogged, 2. No, there is nothing making noise to distract me from this disc, and 3. No I have no beef with Ormandy or the Philadelphia Orchestra. Moreover, I am predisposed toward giant, epic musical pieces, which might be why I found myself enjoying the Grieg c.d. I borrowed at the same time as this. I like longer pieces, too, so this seems like music I would like. After two minutes, there is a fanfare of brass and woodwinds that rises in this piece that adds a sense of menace that sparks the imagination. It erupts into a revelatory tune that is truly grand and big and it is almost worth waiting through the quiet times for!
Unfortunately, this is not just a problem with the first suite. "Fontane Di Roma" begins quiet with "La Fontana di Valle Giulia all'alba" and that does not change until trumpets and brass herald the opening of "La fontana del Tritone al mattino," track six. This piece is one of the few that may be heard in its entirety. For two and a half minutes, the listener is caught up in a sweeping ditty that has woodwinds frolicking around a menacing brass tune and its is intriguing.
After that, though, it slips back into the whispy woodwinds and light strings for the ethereal "La Fontana di Trevi al meriggio" and then "La Fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto," which suffer the same way the other tracks do.
For all of the reviews I have written, I have never walked out of the theater. There has never been a movie so poor that I didn't suffer through watching it (sure, I might have pummiced my feet while doing it, but I sat through it!). This particular recording is one that I have listened to eight times, or attempted to. I have played it in four different players and even checked another copy of it out from the library; the recording itself is engineered so poorly as to be almost impossible to hear through almost the entire album. It is impossible to intelligently evaluate the music when it cannot be heard.
Fortunately, "Feste Romane" breaks the cycle! "Circenses" is a loud, energetic brass and string driven track that has the sound and feel of gladiators entering a ring. Musically, there is a grandeur to this piece that energizes the listener from its first notes, especially after the dull and inaudible tracks that precede it. It is bold, sweeping and sounds like it carries menace when it begins to accent short notes with deep-toned instruments, making for a compelling and dangerous-sounding track. It is exciting and if the entire album had been like this track, I could see myself painting something mysterious, powerful and dark to it.
When track nine ended big and brassy, my heart sank and with good reason; "II Giubilio" takes approximately two minutes before it builds to a volume one can here it at. After its initial peak, it collapses to an oboe and descends into obscurity again, popping out occasionally to jerk the listener around.
It is followed by "L'Ottobrata" and "La Befana."
This album might contain good music, but the pieces are so poorly rendered on the recording as to make it not worth anyone's time and attention. I struggled for days with this album and the subsequent review; no need for you to do the same.
For other instrument-driven music reviews, please check out my takes on:
The Masterpieces Collection: Grieg Volume 4
Metamorphoseon - Ottorino Respighi
Appalachian Journey - Yo-Yo Ma
For other music albums, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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