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AVAILABILITY  La Bottega Discantica

Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Christus - Cantata biblica in due parti per soli, coro e orchestra (1898-99) [66:34]
St Matthew - Carlo Gaifa (ten); Christ - Roland Hermann (bar); Judas - Gastone Sarti (bass-bar)
Coro della Radio Svizzera Italiana
Orchestra della Radio Svizzera Italiana/Marco Balderi
rec. live, Auditorium RTSI, 2 June 1991. DDD

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A soothing cantabile legato warmed by the ORSI horns ushers in this neglected early work by the twenty-year old Respighi. The emphasis is on serenity rather than anything cloyingly reverential and this is a strong element throughout. A warm lyrical tone may be in the ascendant but it is not so much as to be soporific. The writing is full of engaging invention often in the wind solos. Even so this carries none of the spectacular orchestrational effects of the Vetrate di Chiesa or the three Roman poems.
The cantata is in two equal parts with the sung text being in Latin. The first part leads us from the Last Supper to the departure for the Mount of Olives. The second leads us from Olivet to end at Calvary. Respighi sets a text that manages to compress at the end in a handful of lines the death of Christ and his Rising. The amount of sung material is quite small so the work often comes across as an extended reflective tone poem with choral and solo singing at climactic nodes.
A decade later Respighi was to produce the opera Semirama (1910) but there was very little else from his pen between Christus and that work.
Unsurprisingly perhaps the solo parts often have the stamp of operatic stand-and-deliver or have the theatricality that you hear in the solos in Elgarís Gerontius. Hermann, in a strenuous part demanding a wide range, towers above the other two exactly as expected. While this is certainly a dignified portrayal a Puccinian ecstasy sometimes suffuses this Christus (tr. 1 27:12). After sounding anaemic at their first entry at 13:00 in Part I the choir gain in muscularity and robust tone although the engineers are occasionally shy of allowing a full rip to the fortissimi (tr. 1 29:28). They sound glowingly fervent in part 2 at Surrexit Jesus! Even when the engineers do pull back on the controls there are some gripping episodes as at 16:00 in tr. 2 where the abrasive bark of the brass benches is unmistakable. Perhaps it is inevitable that the colossal grandeur of religious scores by Berlioz and Verdi would have left their mark on the young composerís palette.
Both the sung text and translation are included in the booklet.
This is a recording of the live world premiere of Christus. It seems to have been a successful event and is valuable far beyond being a mere document of that occasion. If you are concerned about audience noise, donít be. This was a studio session prepared for radio broadcast.
Is this worth tracking down? Respighians will have to have this. Others? Well, if you have a weakness for the Requiems by Verdi and Stanford, Parryís Job, Elgarís biblical cantatas or the big choral extravaganzas of Berlioz then you should certainly get a copy. You will be agreeably surprised. This is certainly not a piece of pallid juvenilia; just a shame that there are only two tracks.
Rob Barnett


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