There are three movements in this work - a symphony from Respighi. This is
no neo-classical jolly, no pastoral reflection but a great gangling colossus
of a work written in a mood racked with conflict and striving.
The work can loosely be grouped with Szymanowski's Concert Overture,
Enesco's Symphony No. 1 and Scriabin's Symphonies 2 and 3. It is contemporaneous
with the following symphonies: Langgaard 2; Miaskovsky 3 (whose ruined castle
grandeur it partly shares); Rangstrom 1 (similar strenuous lyricism); Tournemire
5 and the desperate high-straining songs of Vermeulen 1 (with which again
it has parallels).
The Respighi is launched with an Allegro energico (23.12) letting
rip with rapturous Straussian climaxes crackling across the first five minutes.
Though hardly glamorous the very natural sound-picture is well caught in
the oboe song at 5.58. There are large helpings of Mahlerian declamation
by the horns (try 7.54 onwards) and music that flows into moments from
Pohjola's Daughter. Scriabin-like protestation, as in 10.42, and the
hoarse calling of the brass section in full cry are also a hallmark of this
work. This gradually winds down into a central Siegfried Idyll-like
middle interlude. Long black Tchaikovskian (Pathetique) shadows
are cast across the scenery at 18.03. At the conclusion a Delian march is
translated into an extremely impressive Mahlerian fanfaring processional
of satisfying gravitas and splendid sunset triumph.
The central andante sostenuto is the shortest movement at 17.06. It
is largely of distanced plainchant emotion in a Debussian idiom. This rises
to a sombre climax in which the brass call out in agony. A much more contained
and calm mood settles like silvery dust over the rest of the movement though
disturbing undercurrents keep rending the gentle blaze of Mahlerian light.
The finale is an Allegro Impetuoso (18.04) which, in this performance,
might actually have benefited from a more buffeting dash but only by a hair
or so's breadth. Howard Hanson was a Respighi pupil and Respighi's influence
can be traced back through these pages as also may the influence of Respighi
on Korngold or vice versa. Other parallel voices are clear: Wagner, Bruckner,
Strauss and even Elgar 2 (10.55). The grand swing of the bells in doom-laden
ruins echoes angrily through the closing moments of this symphony - a prelude
(unwitting or otherwise) to the murderous conflict about to grip Europe for
the next four years.
The strings, which are perhaps not as numerous as they might be, are romantically
warm (III 3.20) but not as lush as those of the BBCPO. The brass and woodwind
are excellent. The recording is good without being absolutely brilliant.
It benefits from being played back at a high volume. The notes are just about
adequate though very brief. More information about the symphony would have
The later (1994) recording by the BBCPO/Edward Downes is on Chandos
runs for one hour and is in more sumptuous sound. That issue is of course
at full price but this too, at least half the Chandos price, has its mead
of voluptuous euphony.
A glorious rest from the usual helping of Roman tone poems. Not the most
subtle of symphonies but one with its share of high pressure poetry. No-one
who invests in this disc in curiosity is likely to be disappointed by the
performance. The music has the very variegated emotional surge you might
have expected from the title.