"Every so often a perfect listening trance can befall one. Here, certainly; this CD glows with beauty. I don’t think I have heard a lovelier program of small-scale Respighi. I was unfamiliar with the Laval Symphony Orchestra, 53 strong, located just north of Montreal. It must be a well-guarded secret. Assisted by an ideal church acoustic and the Romantic legato conducting of Alain Trudel, these players create a web of satin and nostalgia hard to equal. The ATMA engineers clearly understand the rolling, lava-lamp quality of Respighi’s style. Basses and celesta land on cats’ paws. Soft woodwinds and rounded trumpets flutter-tongue gently. It would be hard to improve upon this. Neville, step aside!
In some odd way, Respighi was more at home shining up the past, layer by beautiful layer, than he was at storming the heavens with modern harmony. He mesmerizes best, as here, when he curates and updates. Unlike Stravinsky, who revived the archaic largely to cock a snoot at it, Respighi woos us and makes real again the old modes and consolations. At the same time, a lonely bardic quality puts us at a distance. So we experience emotion with Respighi in the same indirect way we take in the music of Vaughan Williams—still in a dream. There is more to these birds and Botticellis than Sunday morning coffee.
The only fully “modern” piece on this CD is the Puccini-esque Il Tramonto, included here for contrast. This is a gorgeous 1914 Italian setting of Shelley’s “The Sunset.” It amounts to Respighi’s Liebestod. He doesn’t try to outdo Wagner, but Isabel Bayrakdarian’s voice is so captivating, like a young Victoria de los Angeles, and her delivery so quietly moving and long of line, that you come to the end thinking maybe a Mahler adagio has ended.
The CD liner notes are excellent. We learn, for what it is worth, that Alain Trudel was once known as the Jascha Heifetz of the trombone. Come to think of it, perhaps that’s what it takes to be a “Respighi whisperer.” - Steven Kruger
This article originally appeared in Issue 39:3 (Jan/Feb 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.