New Classical Tracks: Buffalo Philharmonic shines in less familiar fare

JoAnn Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
"Respighi: Church Windows, Brazilian Impressions, Rossiniana: Suite For Orchestra" -- JoAnn Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Album cover

The reputation of Italian composer Ottorino Respighi was built on the success of his Roman Trilogy: "The Fountains of Rome," "The Pines of Rome," and "Roman Festivals."

Just about every music lover has a recording of these musical travelogues. There's another tone poem by Respighi that deserves equal attention. It's titled "Church Windows" or "Vetrate de Chiesa."

JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra recently recorded this work and two other less familiar pieces by Respighi.

Respighi didn't have church windows in mind when he wrote this orchestral suite. He named the four movements after the music was composed.

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The impetus to write the music actually came from his wife, Elsa. It was she who introduced her husband to Gregorian chant. This musical discovery inspired Respighi to compose three piano preludes based on Gregorian melodies, which he later transformed into an orchestral suite.

Respighi was experiencing a joyous revelation of wonder when he wrote this music. After sensing this spiritual connection, a friend of Respighi's suggested the title. Each subtitle relates to a religious scene depicted in stained-glass windows.

Respighi once told his students to follow their own instincts. In doing so, they might just discover something they never imagined.

JoAnn Falletta takes the composer's advice to heart as she leads the Buffalo Philharmonic through this lush orchestral suite. Falletta offers a vibrant interpretation, making use of energetic tempos and a broad dynamic range throughout.

The first movement, "The Flight into Egypt," flows effortlessly, creating a sweeping motion.

The string section opens the second movement, titled "St. Michael the Archangel," like a rush of wind. The angel's flight is punctuated by a blast from the brass section, who play with great warmth of tone. This movement has the feel of a lavish movie soundtrack for an epic film.

Respighi gathered various folk melodies during his visit to Brazil in 1927. When he returned home, he incorporated those melodies into his "Brazilian Impressions." This work is very atmospheric.

In the second movement, Respighi documents his visit to a snake farm near Sao Paulo. The exceptional wind soloists of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra slither their way through this piece.

Respighi found inspiration in a handful of piano pieces by the opera composer Rossini early in his career. The result was delightful ballet music for "The Fantastic Toyshop."

A few years later, Respighi produced a dance suite in tribute to Rossini based on a few piano pieces by that composer. A traditional gondolier's song is the basis for the first movement. The wind section floats its way through the waltz-like melody, which is reminiscent of ballet music by Tchaikovsky.

Respighi's gift for creating colorful orchestration is more than evident throughout this new recording, featuring works that are rarely heard and rarely recorded.

JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra are exceptional at bringing out every detail of the composer's sumptuous hues, allowing them to wash over the listener.

Like the Roman Trilogy tone poems, this recording is another collection of works by Respighi that every music lover will want to add to their library.