RESPIGHI: Roman Festivals.  The Pines of Rome.  RIMSKY-KORSAKOV:  Suite from Le Coq d'or (King Dodon in his Palace; King Dodon on the Battlefield; King Dodon with the Queen of Shemakha; The Marriage Feast and Lementable End of King Dodon).
Cleveland Orch/Lorin Maazel, con
DECCA LEGENDS 466 993 (M) (ADD)  74:04

Maazel's colorful performances of the two Respighi symphonic poems, recorded in Masonic Auditorium in Cleveland in May of 1976, were recognized for their superb sonic quality.   The legendary Kenneth Wilkinson engineered, taking time off from his busy schedule with Charles Gerhardt and Britain's National Philharmonic. After  initial release on London/Decca, these recordings were issued on specially processed LPs in Mobile Fidelity's Original Master Recording Series.  Now we have them in this "24-bit Super Digital Transfer" issue in Decca's  mid-price  Legends  Series, and they remain impressive.

In a way, digital  processing has improved the original sound.  Sizzling high frequencies remain, which is admirable, but bass doesn't seem to have quite the definition of the original LPs --  and it seems a touch of ambience has been lost.  The colorful suite from Rimsky-Korsakov's Le Coq d'Or was recorded in the same site in October 1979 with Colin Moorfoot as engineer; it, too, has splendid sound.

Maazel would later record all three symphonic poems in Respighi's trilogy in Pittsburgh for Sony, but the earlier recordings of Festivals and Pines are preferable both interpretively and sonically. No question about it -- the finest recorded performances of these two are Toscanini's dynamic 1953/1949 NBC Symphony recordings RCA/BMG 60262).  The mono sound conveys the intense reading by the conductor who was a good friend of Respighi and led the American premiere of Pines in 1926, the world premiere of Festivals in  1929.  

Many superb recordings of Respighi's Roman symphonic poems are absent from the current catalog, particularly the Ozawa/Boston Symphony DG set of the complete Trilogy, and Sergiu Comissiona's Vanguard Baltimore Symphony  recording of Pines. Among the best currently available of the Trilogy are those by Yan Pascal Tortelier and the Philharmonia on Chandos (8989), Massimo Freccia and the Philharmonia (Festivals & Fountains) coupled with Rudolf Kempe's Pines with the Royal Philharmonic (all engineered by Wilkinson)(Chesky CD 18), with a special bow to the fine Naxos budget issue with Enrique Batiz and the Royal Philharmonic (8.550539).

R.E.B. (Nov. 2000)