RESPIGHI:   Pines of Rome.   Fountains of Rome.  Metamorphoseon Modi XII. 
Cincinnati Symphony Orch/Jesus López-Cobos, cond.

TELARC CD 80505  (F) (DDD)  TT:  62:04

Unless memory betrays me (which it can do and has, even before the dread 70s of vita mea in terris), Eugene Goossens and the Cincinnati Symphony made the first stateside recording of  Pines -- issued on two 78-rpm discs in a paper sleeve rather than RCA Victor's customary heavy-cardboard album -- after James Caesar Petrillo lifted the AFM's World-War-Two ban on recordings. Two decades earlier Fritz Reiner had pleaded with his friend Respighi for the American premiere in Cincinnati (where the formidable Fritz conducted from 1922-31), but Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic got the plum instead. Now, dozens of recordings later both here and abroad, Cincinnati has redone the music on CD, coupled with Fountains (composed earlier, in 1916) and Metamorphoseon Modi XII from1929, for the Boston Symphony's golden jubilee season. The conductor is Jesus López-Cobos, who since has quit what he once said would be a lifetime sinecure, and will be replaced by J”rvi the Younger, ne Paavo.

López-Cobos and Cincinnati make a substantial noise, embellished by trademark Telarc sonics (now using Sony's new "Direct Stream Digital" sampling rate)---more likeably than I expected, although Reiner/Chicago, remastered in "Living Stereo" by RCA, which includes a Debussy La Mer to die for, remains in first place by a furlong, with Muti/Philadelphia a second-best (despite anomalies in EMI's recorded sound). But the modally-rooted, texturally opulent Metamorphoseon -- a theme and variations -- is the bait here, especially since Geoffrey Simon's British-made recording is no longer listed stateside. One can only guess how the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky sounded in this tailor-made work, but Cobos conducts a meticulous performance, stentorian where suitable, subtle also where suitable. The Cincinnati is not, never was, in Boston's league despite propaganda of late in The American Record Guide, latterly owned by a hyperbolic Queen-City resident. But it remains solidly ensconced among North America's second-tier orchestras -- a worthy civic partner of the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals, albeit bettered by orchestras in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, et al.

And there is the enveloping acoustic of capacious Music Hall, which has inspired some of Telarc's noblest achievements over the years. In summary, not a competitive Pines or Fountains, but worth hearing for the fastidious invention of Metamorphoseon Modi XII.

R.D. (Aug. 2000)