Those of you who are looking for some heavy-hitting Respighi will be slightly disappointed. This disc contains a much lighter and less complex side of the Italian composer. Not to say that it is bad, but I expected some more color and impressionistic goodness than this.
But to be perfectly honest, I do like all four pieces on this CD, though not as much as I like the "Belkis Suite" and "Church Windows". "The Birds" is actually four arrangements of harpsichord and lute solo pieces that were made during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. I'm not a big fan of Baroque music, so there's nothing special here to me. "Il Tramonto" is a 15-minute piece for mezzo-soprano and orchestra. Linda Finnie does an extraordinary job with her solo, although the clarity in her voice is a bit off at times. "Adagio con variazioni" is a 10-minute piece for cello and orchestra. Raphael Wallfisch gives an intelligent reading, so nothing bad really happens.
Both "Il Tramonto" and "Adagio" don't have that much of the typical Respighian flavor; they sound as though they were made in the mid-Romantic period. "3 Botticelli Pictures" is the one that's closest to the composer's own "Church Windows" and "Fountains of Rome". Based on a trip to an arts museum in Washington D.C., this stands out as the major highlight of this recording. The impressionistic sound is here, the vastly colorful orchestrations return, and the lyrical ambiance found in the second movement is a reminder of the third movement of "Pines of Rome". It's now one of my favorites from Respighi.
I can see that the composer has created some musically "conservative" pieces as well as his distinctive impressionistic works. I may be biased, but I'm more for the latter. While I do think that "The Birds" and "Il Tramonto" and "Adagio" are decent, I'm left with an unsatisfactory taste as I expected at least a heavenly flow that's found in "Church Windows".
A for "3 Botticelli Pictures"
C+ for "The Birds" and "Il Tramonto" and "Adagio"