The lure of Respighi's 'Pines' and 'Fountains'
New York — Ottorino Respighi's tone poems have evoked the scorn of critics and the adoration of the listening public. Granted, even the famous pieces - ''The Pines of Rome'' and ''The Fountains of Rome'' - rarely show up these days on orchestra programs. But they do show up on records. Now that more music can be fitted on a disk than ever before, thanks to new technological advancements, the entire ''Roman Trilogy,'' which adds ''Feste Romane'' to the aforementioned duo, can be recorded on only one record.
DG has done just this with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra ( 2530 890). It's achieved by splitting the four sections of ''Feste Romane'' over two sides, with ''Pines'' beginning on one side and ''Fountains'' on the other. A certain brilliance has also been sacrificed, though not enough to mar the sheen of the sound. Just before these recording sessions, I heard Mr. Ozawa and his orchestra perform the trilogy in Symphony Hall. A mightier din has surely never been heard there; unfortunately, that visceral impact is missing from these enthusiastic but somewhat safe performances enshrined on this handsome release. But the DG engineers have captured the BSO gorgeously.
DG later released a Herbert von Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic account of the ''Pines'' and ''Fountains'' (2531 055), which is sonically dazzling and interpretively extraordinary. Karajan has never been embarrassed by showy music, by splashy tunes or crash-bang orchestrations. Rather, he knows how to make it all communicate on every level, from the primordial to the ultrarefined. He also respects Respighi and clearly enjoys revealing just what a fine orchestrator the composer was. In every way, this is a remarkable record.
Two performances have been reprocessed in the half-speed mastering method that opens up the frequency response of recordings and virtually guarantees that all the sound captured in an analog master will be uncovered. The high-priced Original Master Recording series from Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab has chosen the London recording of ''Feste Romane'' and ''Pines'' with Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra (MFSL 1-507), and indeed it sounds glorious. The orchestra is in fine form, and there is not a trace of surface noise or inner-groove distortion even at the final shattering perorations in ''Feste Romane.'' Maazel's aloof, dry approach to both scores, however, makes for an interpretive disappointment.
RCA Red Seal's .5 Series has remastered the classic Chicago Symphony performances of ''Pines'' and ''Fountains'' under the baton of Fritz Reiner. The only competition is Karajan's disk, and even then, both conductors have such interesting approaches to the scores, and both have such fine-tuned ears, that I could not imagine being without either. If you already own the Reiner on an older RCA pressing, it is worth the money to hear just how much richer the reconstructed sound is, how much more detail it has, and how much less tape hiss there is. The improvement only heightens respect for the special art of Fritz Reiner and his superb Chicago Symphony.