OTTORINO RESPIGHI: La Primavera Cantata – Soloists/Slovak Philharmonic Chorus/Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Adriano; Quattro liriche su poesie popolari armene (Four Songs on Popular Armenian Melodies) – Denisa Slipkovska, mezzo-sop.; La pentola magica (The Magic Pot) ballet – Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra Adriano – Naxos 8.570741, 79:20 ****:
OTTORINO RESPIGHI: Works for Violin and Orchestra = Chaconne; “Concerto All’Antica;” Pastorale; “Concerto a Cinque” – Ingolf Turban, violin/ English Chamber Orchestra/ Marello Viotti – Claves CD 50-9017, 78:38 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Respighi is of course mainly connected with his series of super-colorful widescreen panoramic tonepoems inspired by Rome. Their brilliant colors and obvious appeal have totally overshadowed the composer’s many works for the stage, symphonic and chamber groups. Only recently has some of Respighi’s other music found its way to recordings. Some of this has been due to the efforts of Swiss conductor-composer Adriano, who is an established specialist on Respighi. His many recording projects have been based on the idea that music history should be revised to be not just the story of the so-called great composers, neatly classified into traditions and categories. He strives to bring neglected music such as these Respighi works to public attention.
Both the first two works on the Adriano CD are based on texts by Armenian poets. Respighi seems to have become interested in the Italian translations of a contemporary, Constant Zarian, and used them in his lyric poem for a quartet of soloists, chorus and orchestra, La Primavera. This was one of several of his vocal symphonic poems which have a place somewhat between the traditional cantata and opera, though avoiding the character of an oratorio. It’s seven episodes deal with the mysteries of Spring, the voices of the breezes, water and flowers, a young man’s longing, and enraptured maidens. The four short songs of the second work are based on texts by both Zarian and another Armenian poet. He used archaic church modes to provide the exotic-religious atmosphere of the texts, and the mezzo soloist is accompanied by a chamber group.
The closing ballet on the first CD provided the greatest interest to me. It is a pastiche score not unlike Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and The Fairy’s Kiss, and pays tribute to a group of less well-known composers, including Grachaninov, Arensky, Anton Rubinstein and Vladimir Rebikov. Respighi’s great skill in orchestration brings all the sources together for a delightful suite which runs 25 minutes.
As in the first two works on the first CD, the four selections on the Claves CD are all examples of Respighi’s “return to the past.” In many of his compositions the composer showed an affection for earlier styles of music and was able to easily assimilate them into his music. The baroque and early liturgical music and chants had a special appeal for him. The opening Chaconne here is a free transcription of a theme by Tomaso Vitali, and the Pastorale for violin and strings uses a theme by Giuseppe Tartini. The Concerto all’antica is in what Respighi described as “a Vivaldian three-part form.” However, its first movement is closer to the style of Haydn and Mozart. The minuetto in its third movement offers hints of the composer’s re-working of Rossini themes in his ballet to come a decade later, La Boutique Fantasque. Both this concerto and the closing Concerto a Cinque for oboe, trumpet, violin, doublebass, piano, and strings are first recordings. The latter work comes from 1933 and is a resuscitated baroque concerto with four movements in the style of Corelli. This is a most enjoyable mix of old and new in a chamber work. Violinist Turban is first rate in all the selections here. The recording is actually not new, carrying a 1990 date, but its sonics are up to current standards, and with the Naxos disc both provide a different aspect of Respighi’s art than most of us have previously had.
– John Sunier