DORÁTI & GALLIERA Respighi: Orchestral Music (1954/55) - PASC194

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DORÁTI & GALLIERA Respighi: Orchestral Music (1954/55) - PASC194

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RESPIGHI Feste romane (Roman Festivals)
RESPIGHI Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows)
RESPIGHI Fontane di Roma (Roman Fountains)

Recorded 1954 and 1955
Total duration: 65:26
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Antal Doráti
The Philharmonia Orchestra
conducted by Alceo Galliera

This set contains the following albums:

Doráti and Galliera magnificent in Respighi

All the bombast and spectacular orchestration brilliantly conveyed

All three of these excellent recordings manages to capture the - at times over-the-top - exuberance of Respighi's orchestral writing well, and though the Doráti does appear to suffer a slight top end roll-off towards the end of each side this happens slowly enough and is mild enough that one is rarely aware of it when listening through.

What certainly cannot be missed here is perhaps the most dramatic hit on the tam-tam (or gong) I've ever heard on record. From the crash at the end of the second movement of Church Windows until the decay finally falls under the opening bars of the third movement there's an incredible 18 seconds of reverberant sound.

Robert Benson, writing in Classical CD Review in 2002, investigated this single note in Respighi's score. He found Ormandy's stereo Philadelphia to run to "a paltry 7 seconds" whilst on Chandos, Geoffrey Simon's 1984 recording manages a "far better recorded" 12 second. But ultimately, "no other recording approaches the Doráti spectacular."

You can hear for yourself this mighty crash in our sample here, though you'll have to listen to the full piece to get to grips with the deep 32 foot organ stops, and what Gramophone's reviewer somewhat sniffily refers to as "pretty well everything in the kitchen but the sink"!

Andrew Rose

  • RESPIGHI Feste romane (Roman Festivals)
  • RESPIGHI Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows)
    Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra
    conducted by Antal Doráti

    20 November, 1954, Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis
    First issued as Mercury MG 50046

  • RESPIGHI Fontane di Roma (Roman Fountains)
    The Philharmonia Orchestra
    conducted by Alceo Galliera

    18-21 March, 1955, Kingsway Hall, London
    First issued as UK Columbia 33 CX 1339

Transfers from the collection of Edward Johnson
XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, October 2009
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Antal Doráti

Total duration: 65:26

    "...The subjects illustrated in Stained-glass windows, written in 1926, are The flight into Egypt, with the little caravan moving slowly through the desert ; The archangel Michael in his battle with the dragon—which ends with a colossal tam-tam stroke as the latter falls from Heaven ; The matins of St. Clara—probably the best musically, in a vein of quiet melancholy ; and a majestic St. Gregory the Great. The orchestra is already a large one, with triple woodwind, four trumpets, piano, organ and three tam-tams among much else, but it pales into insignificance beside Roman festivals, which is in the super-colossal class and adds three buccine or Roman bugles, mandoline, clarinet in D, a whole range of different sorts of bells, and pretty well everything in the kitchen but the sink (and I wouldn't swear that it too wasn't called on somewhere). The movements depict the martyrs, the lions and the mob of the Circenses ; the Jubilation of pilgrims reaching Rome ; the October festival of hunting and romance (Respighi at his best) ; and the riotous clamour of the Epiphany celebrations in the Piazza Navona—a frenzied movement which recalls, and attempts to outdo, the Fair scene in Petrouchka. Antal Dorati has a real outing with his orchestra, which plays with the utmost abandon..."

- Gramophone, June 1956 - review of Doráti

    "This music is dependent, more than most, on its recording and the Fountains of Rome has been lucky in all its issues, from the excellent Toscanini/H.M.V. to the present one. On sampling the older ones again I thought the Nixa less good than I remembered and the Mercury, though perhaps the most clearly vivid of all, does lack warmth. Warmth is a quality in which this new Columbia excels and the quiet movements are particularly good to hear, especially as they are also played so exquisitely. The whole of the last section (the Villa Medici at Evening) is as beautiful as I ever remember hearing it. The brilliant movements are well reproduced too and since the playing throughout is by the Philharmonia at their best, this is a record of the work not to be overlooked."

- Gramophone, April 1956 - review of Galliera

Fanfare Review

I recently visited Minneapolis. One of my longtime ambitions was to see the Northrop Auditorium on the campus of the University of Minnesota, where so many recordings by Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos, and Antal Dorati (and a few by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski) were made before the former Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra) moved to its new downtown concert hall. To make what could have been a long story short, the building was locked the day I tried to get in, so I still haven’t seen anything but the outside of the place. Acoustically, it was an odd venue. Ormandy’s Victor recordings sounded pretty good for their time; Columbia’s Mitropoulos recordings, produced by radiomen who preferred the dead sound of the broadcasting studio, were dry and boxy, with lousy pressings to match. Things improved a bit when RCA Victor returned for the last Mitropoulos and first Dorati recordings, but the LPs that really made a splash were Mercury’s, which were loved by some and disliked by others because of their dry, almost desiccated sound. I think it’s fair to say that, regardless of what he had accomplished with various ballet companies and the Dallas Symphony, Mercury’s recordings put Dorati “on the map,” so to speak. When the music was “right,” the results could be sensational, but so much depended on the producer and what kind of sound (s)he wanted. I still think Dorati’s mono Rite of Spring, with its audio X-Ray of the orchestration, is sensational, superior to its good, but mushier, stereo successor. Another very successful recording was the pairing of Respighi’s Feste romane with the (at the time) unknown Church Windows, another audio blockbuster; in fact, I assume that the Dorati/Mercury disc of those two pieces introduced Church Windows to the general public. I’ll bet the big gong bash at the end of “St. Michael Archangel” served as a demo for showing off “hi-fi” systems.

The things we do for our avocation: I listened to nine Feste romane recordings before tackling Dorati’s. It turned out to be, in a way, frustrating, because all of them were, at least, “good” performances: Bernstein, Gatti, López-Cobos, Maazel Nos. 1 and 2, Marriner, Mata, Ormandy No. 2 (I learned the piece on his No. 1), and Toscanini. I heard Toscanini’s, not on a CD, but on LM-55, the original 10-inch RCA Victor LP, and it sounded so good that I found myself wondering if the CD could be any better. Perhaps I’ll eventually find out. If you must have stereo, I’d reluctantly go with Mata’s refined, colorful, and superbly recorded performance. If you need a little more panache and don’t mind Lenny adding his own trickery to Respighi’s, I’d recommend Bernstein’s slightly overproduced one. Nobody attacks the music with the furious intensity of Toscanini and few match his delicacy when it’s called for. The NBC Symphony outdoes itself—they and their conductor must have been exhausted after the session. Too bad it isn’t a two-channel recording. I could make the same comment about Dorati’s, which almost matches Toscanini’s in its energy and power. Mercury’s in-your-face sound yields not only volume but also orchestral detail. Because their producers had a proper horror of gain riding, some early Mercurys have a hint of overloading in loud passages. It’s hard to believe that the original LP of this didn’t have it but I can’t remember any more; in any case, Pristine Audio seems to have expunged it. The LP, impressive as it was, didn’t sound this good.

Contrary to what one might expect, Church Windows is not a postscript to the more famous Roman Trilogy. It is based, in part, on three piano pieces Respighi wrote in 1919. During the mid 1920s he orchestrated them and added an extra movement, completing the tone poem in 1925, before tackling Feste romane. The music is based on Gregorian chant, perhaps not surprising, given his interest in early music and his other arrangements of it (The Birds, the Ancient Dances and Airs, the Concerto gregoriano). For all its colorful power, it certainly does contain more than a whiff of religious mysticism and is not at all like the more famous tone poems that salute Rome. Dorati’s performance holds up very well, even with only one channel. However, I should mention some stereo competition. Assuming that most people already have recordings of the Roman pieces, I could cite Falletta (Naxos) and Ormandy (Sony), whose couplings are, respectively, the Brazilian Impressions and Rossiniana in her case, and The Birds and Louis Lane’s recording of the Scarlatti-Tomassini Good Humored Ladies Suite (the only one that includes the so-called “Cat’s Fugue”) in his. There is also Keith Clark on Reference Recordings, where Church Windows is coupled with the Autumn Poem for violin and orchestra; I’ve never heard it. López-Cobos (Telarc) also recorded Church Windows, but it is coupled with Feste romane, as well as the Brazilian Impressions.

The inclusion of Alceo Galliera’s Fountains of Rome isn’t much of a bonus but, given its impressive discmates, it doesn’t much matter. As far as recordings go, he was a highly valued “house conductor” for EMI, accompanying many of the company’s most famous soloists and making some recordings of his own. Perhaps EMI assumed that, since he was Italian, he’d have a flair for Respighi. I found his Pines of Rome to be rather tame, and had the same reaction to this 1955 Fountains, which strikes me as a straightforward, dignified reading, as if he’s uncomfortable with such flashy stuff and would rather be collaborating with Artur Schnabel in some Beethoven concerto again.

James Miller

This article originally appeared in Issue 33:4 (Mar/Apr 2010) of Fanfare Magazine.