First up is the wonderful CD I mentioned in the previous post which contains several great pieces from Ottorino Respighi – Ancient Airs and Dances Suites I and III, The Birds, and Three Botticelli Pictures. The always inspired Orpheus Chamber Orchestra does a wonderful job with each piece and the sound engineering is impeccable. This is an extremely clean recording with a certain transparency that allows you to hear every single line and instrument with perfect clarity. You won’t find the typical Respighi bombast on this disc, just immaculate renderings of some of his more intimate compositions. Of course it is even more impressive when you know that the Orpheus operates sans conductor, no small feat given the number of musicians involved with this recording. If you’re a fan of early music, definitely give this disc a try to see how one composer moved the past firmly into the present.
Continuing with Respighi, I heartily recommend his Church Windows symphonic suite to those who love both The Church and her music. Respighi employs the old church modes in each movement of Church Windows, giving them that unique quality that many will only hear when listening to chant. It is a rare opportunity to hear the same chord structures and progressions so densely and powerfully orchestrated. Two of the movements, St. Michael the Archangel and St. Gregory the Great, are prime examples of the wall shaking amounts of sound Respighi conjures with his compositions. Have a seat on the couch, turn it up, and enjoy. There is a particularly gripping moment in St. Gregory the Great involving a full pipe organ that never fails to give me goosebumps. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra does a wonderful job and once again the sound engineering is impressive. There is a lot of dynamic range on this CD and never once does it feel clipped or compressed. While I’m a much bigger fan of The NY Philharmonic versions of the Roman Trilogy, the version of Roman Festivals on this disc is certainly impressive on account of the remarkable pace with which Lopez-Cobos drives the orchestra.
Finally, I want to throw some choral music into the mix with a great CD of pieces by Eric Whitacre. The guy is a master of chord structure and progression, weaving a dense tapestry of human voices with a nearly timeless quality. It is surprisingly difficult to place this music in time - Whitacre himself is a very young contemporary composer with the capability of producing oddly anachronistic pieces no matter where you place them in musical history. All I know is that the works are astonishingly beautiful. Two of my favorites are Water Night and Lux Aurumque.