Long before Frederico Fellini memorably captured something of the colour and the history of the Eternal City in his contrasting masterpieces, La Dolce Vita and Roma, Ottorino Respighi, one of Rome’s adopted sons, created his popular and enduring Roman Trilogy. As a result, the fountains, the festivals and the pines of Rome were immortalised in music every bit as colourful and as memorable as one of Fellini’s films. 

This splendid new recording of the trilogy continues to celebrate the rising star of young Mexican-American conductor Robert Treviño, whose artistic ascent has been confirmed by two widely lauded discs of Ravel with the Basque National Orchestra, as well as a disc of Rautavaara with the Malmö Symphony. After successfully engaging with those two extraordinary colourists, it only seems natural that Treviño should record the most famous works of that other great musical painter beginning with the letter “R”.

Undoubtedly the highlight of this disc is Treviño’s larger-than-life account of Feste Romane (Roman Festivals), which alone is worth the price of admission. Under his charismatic baton, it’s hard to understand how this suite has become the least known part of the trilogy.

Cast in four movements, the opening takes us to the Circus Maximus, where Respighi evokes both ancient chariot races and Christian martyrdom. Treviño lets loose a dark, manic undercurrent of trenchant brass and lower strings, setting a menacing mood, which is then superbly contrasted with a repeated string motif, characterising the inexorable climb of pilgrims toward the city in the second movement. Their first sight of Rome from Monte Mario (where incidentally Respighi had his villa) is beautifully caught, along with the interweaving of the Easter chorale Christ ist erstanden

Respighi’s depiction of the October harvest in the third movement has all the joy, colour and carefully observed detail of a Breughel canvas. Once again, Treviño sensitively illuminates the composer’s extraordinary, rustic orchestration with its sleigh bells and mandolin. 

Reaching its climax with a celebration of a traditional winter fair on the feast of the Epiphany, the music runs riot with all sorts of colourful characters – a kindly witch, Befana who flies through the night delivering gifts to children, street vendors, dancing couples, organ grinders and the odd drunk (captured with trombone glissandos). Treviño well has the measure of the work’s festive spirit, and the listener cannot help but raise a smile at the riotous conclusion.

The more well-known suites of the trilogy also benefit both from Treviño’s sensitivity to timbre and texture, as well as his unerring ability to set mood.

Lit with a wealth of subtly changing hues, the Fountains of Rome exert their customary charm, backed up by excellent playing across the board from the Italian Radio Orchestra. In particular, the climax of The Trevi Fountain at Noon impresses and then slowly subsides into a perfectly burnished sunset around the fountain of the Villa Medici. 

Likewise, the Pines of Rome, with their cleverly contrasted scenes, are vividly performed; the helter-skelter games of the children near the Villa Borghese suddenly cut short by the sombre contemplation of the catacombs, succeeded by the dreamlike visit to the pines of the Janiculum, with its sad, solitary nightingale, which is then obliterated by the unstoppable march of the Roman army along the Appian Way. 

Directed and played with the sort of imagination and flair of which Fellini would have approved, and well recorded to boot, here’s a disc you won’t want to miss.

Listen on Apple Music

Composer: Respighi
Works: Roman Trilogy
Performers: Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI/Robert Treviño
Label: Ondine ODE14252

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