RECORD STORE TALES Part 191: Respighi
In the early 2000’s I was very interested in growing a little bit of a classical music collection. Classical music can be had in reasonably priced but expansive box sets, but I wanted to be a little more discerning. There were some things I knew I wanted to get just based on reputation, such as Niccolò Paganini and Glenn Gould. I knew the CBC had a lot of classical programming so I used to tune into them driving home from work after the night shift.
The first time I did so was a turning point. I heard some music, but I didn’t have a clue what it was. It sounded dramatic and soundtrack-esque to me. I could picture a sprawling epic such as Spartacus unfolding in front of me. It wasn’t until I stopped at the red lights that the announcer came back on the air and told me that the piece I heard was “The Pines of Rome” composed by Ottorino Respighi. Respighi…Italian! My countryman!
I went into work the next morning, and checked the computer for anything by Respighi. Turns out, we had one in stock, a London Records recording of Pines of Rome. It was my first true classical purchase, not counting movie soundtracks. Working at a record store enabled me to cheaply expand into any genre of music I wished. I’m strongly in favour of trying new music, no matter what section of the store you find it in.
Reviewing classical music is tough for me because it’s way out of my zone of expertise. All I know is what I like and what sounds good to my ears. This old recording, conducted by István Kertész, fit the bill for me. “The Pines of Rome” is such an incredible piece. Apparently this is considered a “symphonic poem”. In other words, the classical music equivalent of a concept album! It has majestic moments that phase into romantic interludes; scenes, basically. By the end, it is a triumphant anthem worthy of the most awe-inspiring movie soundtrack. You can easily visualize the sun rising over the tall pines; apparently that was the composer’s intention. It works!
“The Birds” starts as jaunty piece, perfect for a fancy dinner or event! What I enjoy about music like this is that it enables me to travel back in time, in my mind. It is easy to place yourself at the hearth of a warm fire, almost 100 years ago. This piece’s different sections attempt to transcribe birdsong into a musical arrangement: doves, hens, nightingale, and the cuckoo. I can’t help it, I like the cuckoo best. It’s whimsical.
“Fountains of Rome” is another symphonic poem, this one beginning at daybreak. The second movement sounds like a summoning, as creatures begin to frolick. The piece paints a picture, allowing the listener to really just sink in.
Great gateway album.
Next time on Record Store Tales…
Do you still have the first mix CD you ever made?