Gianandrea Noseda the orchestra's chief conductor was in fighting form for this celebration of Italian music. The main dish on the menu was Respighi's wonderful and popular Roman Trilogy- the Fountains, Pines and Festivals of Rome. In keeping also with the Phil's Year of the Voice we were also treated to Verdi's Willow song and Ave Maria from Otello and also the closing scene of Act 3 of Puccini's La Boheme.
This evening was a feast for the senses. The sense of dread of Otello as Desdemona awaits her fate and the impending sadness of the death of Mimi, was contrasted to the sheer exuberance of the Respighi symphonic poems.
It was a total delight to hear all the three Respighi pieces played together and what a good idea to allow us the savour each piece with the breaks for song. This splitting of the trio gave the audience the time to differentiate each one and to soak in their differences and also to link their similarities.
The trio is wonderfully descriptive and having been to Rome many times I can say Respighi captured each aspect of Rome brilliantly. I was particularly impressed with the Epiphany festival in the last movement of the Festivals, having visited this fair on two occasions. The festival is called the Bufano Fair and features good luck witches and the fair stalls sell witches of every shape and size all flying on broomsticks. Respighi's music is full of witches flying through the air. Also it is a tradition at this time of year to throw old furniture out into the street from upper story windows and this crashing and splintering also appears in the piece.
One of my all time favourite pieces of music is Respighi's Pines of the Via Appia. This road runs down the length of Italy from Rome to Brindisi in the heel of Italy. The last section of the Appian way narrows to about 10 feet wide and finishes at an arch just before the Southern gates of the city. Respighi portrays a victorious army marching toward the Imperial City and we hear it in the far distance, an effect helped by having some of the orchestra on the balcony in the hall. It then comes nearer and nearer with blaring brass and drums and marching feet. Your heart quickens, your blood sings and your head buzzes with the sheer magnificence of it all. No wonder Hollywood copied Respighi's music for their Roman epics and still does today. He was a genius at painting with music and for too long he has not been given the place he deserves.
When watching the orchestra I often notice the brilliant timpanist Paul Turner. I watch for a signal he makes just before launching into a particularly important solo. He quickly shoots his cuffs before getting down to it and I am always transfixed by how he makes the drums talk. In the Respighi he was shooting faster than Wyatt Earp and always hitting the exact spot.
The singers were all excellent, though last minute changes of soloists had been necessary. Kristine Opolais replaced Irina Lungu and Sarah Tynan replaced Laura Giodano. Kristine sang the Verdi Arias and also sang Mimi. Her voice although very good seemed rather quiet and it was hard to hear her at times. Sarah sang Musetta well and acted her songs in fine style. Franco Vassalio was Marcello and Tomislav Muzek sang Rodolfo. They were both superb and also acted well.
It was a fantastically enjoyable evening and it will be broadcast on Radio 3 so please look out for it as you will not be disappointed.