Richard Bratby

Turn it up and feel the walls shake: John Wilson’s Respighi reviewed

Wilson's handpicked orchestra has already released two knockout recordings, but this latest disc has a truly cinematic swagger

Turn it up and feel the walls shake: John Wilson's Respighi reviewed
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Grade: A

The strings rear up, there’s a flash of steel from the trumpets, and ten seconds into Respighi’s Feste Romane, you can already tell that things are about to get physical. It’s the heft of the sound that floors you — the gut punch of a 100-piece orchestra darting through Respighi’s Technicolor sonorities with the silken grace of a puma. The percussion sizzles and stings, the strings have a Mantovani shimmer. It’s sensuous, it’s lurid, it’s almost hyper-real: imagine if Fellini had written his own film scores.

Orchestra nerds have fantasised for years about gathering the best freelance players in London into one super-orchestra. Late in 2018, Wilson pulled out his address book and actually did it, taking a name — Sinfonia of London — from a fabled postwar session outfit. The original Sinfonia of London made its name with movie soundtracks (its credits ranged from Vertigo to The Snowman). In its new incarnation the Sinfonia has already released knockout recordings of Korngold, Debussy and Ravel, but this latest disc — its third — has a truly cinematic swagger.

True, it’s not all blood and glory. The quiet passages have a tactile, perfumed softness that you won’t hear from any other orchestra. But no one visits Respighi’s Rome for a quiet night in, and from the dawn-to-dusk panorama of Fontane di Roma to the barbaric, Cecil B. DeMille climax of Pini di Roma, this is playing to make you tear out your earbuds, turn up the volume, and feel the walls shake.