What a pleasant surprise is this disc. I was not familiar with this orchestra (a chamber orchestra, as it turns out) or Alain Trudel as a conductor. He is known as a trombone virtuoso, which almost dissuaded me from buying this disc. Can a trombonist be a good conductor? Silly me...the answer is a resounding YES! A good musician is a good musician, no matter his primary instrument (or voice), and Trudel transitions to his role on the podium extremely well. He leads this orchestra to excellent results. All through this disc, they play with precision, character and very satisfying musicianship.
I, at first, found it a bit odd that ATMA gives Respighi's Il Tramonto and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian top billing, as this is predominantly an orchestral collection. However, from the very moment Bayrakdarian began singing, I can understand why. It is gorgeously sung and accompanied with much sensitivity. This performance elevates this piece to be one of Respighi's most creative and alluring masterpieces.
But, the bulk of this disc is orchestral, and that is where I found even more enjoyment. The Birds are each characterful and charming; the Ancient Airs & Dances Suite #1 is very stylish and energetic; and The Three Botticelli Pictures are atmospheric and full of color - all aided by superb playing and luminous recording.
There are times, however, (especially in the Tramonto and Three Botticelli Pictures) where this music would have benefited from a slightly larger string section. These pieces are often played by chamber orchestras and I almost always find myself craving a slightly fuller, warmer, richer body of tone. Such is the case here. However, it's all so well played and recorded, this is a minor quibble. Indeed, ATMA's recording quality cannot be praised highly enough. It is clear and detailed within a warm and rich acoustic - demonstration quality, if you've got the sound system to reveal its full glory.
All in all, this is a wonderful collection of less-often performed Respighi which will give much pleasure. I'm glad I took a chance on it. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it so much I hope ATMA persuades this team to record more Respighi, especially the remaining two Ancient Airs & Dances Suites, along with the Brazilian Impressions. Very highly recommended.