RESPIGHI:  Roman Festivals.  Church Windows.
Minneapolis Symphony Orch/Antal Dorati, cond.
SOUND DYNAMICS 2002-131 (mono (ADD) (M) TT:  49:41

In the early '50s Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra made a series of Mercury recordings before the stereo era, outstanding performances apparently recorded with a single microphone which provided a very well-balanced sound.  One of the outstanding releases in the series was a coupling of two of Respighi's orchestral showpieces, Roman Festivals and Church Windows.

The symphonic poem Roman Festivals, the last of the composer's Roman Trilogy, is also the heaviest scored and most demanding for the performers.  Arturo Toscanini's two recordings (Philadelphia Orchestra, 1941; NBC Symphony, 1949) remain the supreme interpretations although sonics disappoint, particularly the earlier version.  Dorati also whips up an orchestral frenzy, everything under control, very well played by the Minnesota orchestra.  Vetrate di chiesa ("Church Windows") is a four-movement suite (The Flight into Egypt, St. Michael Archangel, The Matins of St. Clare and St. Gregory the Great) inspired by Gregorian chants.  For audio buffs it is memorable for the huge gong smashed loudly at the ending of the second section. In Dorati's performance it takes place 6:16 into track 6 - and continues for 16 seconds. Eugene Ormandy's stereo Philadelphia Columbia recording more than a decade later has a gone that isn't nearly as impressive and lasts a paltry 7 seconds; Geoffrey Simon's 1984 Philharmonia Chandos recording is far better recorded and lasts 12 seconds. However, no other recording approaches the Dorati spectacular.

As mentioned above, the sound is well-balanced but very dry.  You won't find lush strings or a rich blanket of low strings, but orchestral detail is very clear.  Sound Dynamics has made a miraculous transfer from an immaculate LP - nowhere is there a trace of overload or distortion which always seemed to be inherent in the original LPs.  Audiophiles and collectors surely will wish to own this important recording dating from almost a century ago.  Packaging is minimal - no CD notes or other information - but it doesn't matter.  The CD can be ordered from Sound Dynamics at modest cost.

R.E.B.  (July 2002)