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Respighi: The Birds; Ancient Dances & Airs

Respighi: The Birds; Ancient Dances & Airs

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With the present album, the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège and John Neschling bring us the sixth and last instalment in a series that has been called ‘the finest-ever survey of the composer’s orchestral output undertaken by a single conductor’ (BBC Music Magazine). The immense popularity of the Roman Trilogy has had the effect of obscuring many parts of Respighi’s oeuvre, including arrangements of pieces from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. These arrangements, a genuine declaration of love for this music, were less an attempt at musicological reconstruction than ‘free transcriptions for orchestra’ as the composer described them.

The four suites on this album, Gli Uccelli (The Birds) and the three entitled Ancient Dances and Airs, bear witness to this art. Gli Uccelli consists of five pieces originally written for harpsichord or lute which, as the title suggests, evoke birds set in colourful soundscapes. The Ancient Dances and Airs are suites each made of four pieces for lute or guitar from the Italian and French repertoire of the late 16th and early 17th centuries adorned with new orchestral colours. The success of these suites owes much to their orchestration: subtle and sober with timbres of rare sophistication. A refined treat from the Italian master of orchestration.


The conductor must have put an extra teaspoon of baking soda in the batter, because these performances are uncommonly airy. Much of this music is suffused with an autumnal melancholy, and Neschling and his orchestra capture that very well. For example, try the Villanella from Suite No. 1 of the Ancient Airs and Dances, where several members of the orchestra take turns stepping into the spotlight, which they do most atmospherically. In the same suite’s Gagliarda, there is a sense of lively occasion, but Neschling does not allow it to become starchy or pompous.

I think this is a winner on all counts.

-- Fanfare

In more instances than I can count on this Neschling recording, I find myself sitting up straight, having heard him do something that brings the music to life in a way that I had not heard before on other recordings. He knows how to “read between the lines” and to bring out that extra “something” that separates the great conductors from the mere kapellmeisters.

-- MusicWeb International

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    • UPC/Barcode: 7318599925400
    • Item Number: BIS-2540