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RESPIGHI (1879-1936) Christus - Cantata biblica in
due parti per soli, coro e orchestra (1898-99)
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
rec. live, Auditorium RTSI, 2 June 1991. DDD
LA BOTTEGA DISCANTICA BDI125 [66:34]
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
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.
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