Like most of us, I am sure, knowledge of Ottorino Respighi’s
music is probably restricted to the Roman tone poems, Fountains of
Rome, Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals. He was a
fine orchestrator, and rather trapped into pastiche arrangements of
the works of his greater predecessors like Bach. Strangely, I came across
him when writing my biography of Max Bruch, for, like Vaughan Williams,
Respighi was an unlikely pupil of the old man when he was Professor
of Composition at the Berlin Academy from 1890-1911. Bruch would have
approved of Respighi (he castigated VW for his use of the flattened
seventh, and luckily the Englishman ignored his teacher’s advice to
stop using it for it became his trademark for the rest of his life!)
because the Italian had an obvious respect for and assimilation of the
past in his own music. Even Rachmaninov deferred to Respighi when he
entrusted the orchestration of five of his Etudes-tableaux for piano
‘to your masterly hands’. He is due for rediscovery, or maybe it is
more basic than that, discovery.
This disc goes some way to doing just that. The music
is a surprising revelation, very delightful, tuneful, and imaginative.
The Presto of the string quartet had me reaching for the skip-back button.
All the works cover the first decade of the last century, when the composer
was in his thirties, the Brahms influence still strong yet not without
the sunny southern Italian climes of Respighi’s own nature, at the same
time, Janus-like, looking ahead to what would happen in the first two
decades of the 20th century, monumental times for music.
Add in some Rimsky-Korsakov (another brilliant colourist), a dash of
Mendelssohn, and some Richard Strauss and you have pretty well got an
idea of how attractive this music is. Apparently there’s a lot more
undiscovered chamber music to be explored, so the auguries are good.
The Ambache, an eminent group of five on this disc,
play it all superbly well, the crowning duo of Ambache and Crayford
in the beautiful Six Pieces rounding off a highly enjoyable feast of