Self-restraint was evidently not at the top of Respighi’s list of priorities when he composed Pines of Rome in 1924.

The orchestral forces enlisted for this 20-minute symphonic poem include a large organ – ideally with a 32-foot pedal stop – six bucinas (Roman trumpets), a vast percussion section and even a gramophone player. It isn’t just about creating a big noise, however, and over the four movements the composer beguiles us with vivid depictions of various pine tree-adorned scenes in Italy’s capital city.

 

 

Opening with children playing on a sunny morning at the Villa Borghese, the work then plunges us into the gloom of a scene near a catacomb, from which emerges a haunting chant.

Night brings us to the Janiculum hill, where the calm is broken only by the song of a nightingale (played on said gramophone).

Finally, as dawn breaks, we head back through the centuries to witness the Roman army making its way along the Appian Way, a march that ends in a thrilling, triumphant climax.

 

 

The best recording

Antonio Pappano (conductor)
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (2007)
Warner Classics 394 4292

Though Rome’s finest orchestra undoubtedly rises to the occasion of playing its ‘home’ music, the magic here is really down to conductor Antonio Pappano who, in a performance rich in imagination, captures the mood of the work’s four very differing moments spot on.

Outside the Villa Borghese, Pappano lets his children run gleefully amok – as the movement frantically gathers tempo, the orchestra sounds as though it’s on the cusp of haring out of control… but is just about kept in check. And in the following ‘Pines Near a Catacomb’, Pappano creates the necessary sense of space by duly following the composer’s instruction to place the trumpet soloist ‘as far away as possible’ – many, surprisingly, don’t.

 

 

A feel for distance, too, distinguishes Pappano’s march along the Appian Way. As…

This Article was written by Freya Parr

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