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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Complete Songs for Voice and Piano, Vol. 3

Quattro Liriche su parole di poeti armeni P132 (1921) [11:25] a
Due Liriche P123 (1919) [6:41] a
Cinque Liriche P108 (1917) [18:39] a
Quattro Liriche dal Poema Paradisiaco di Gabriele d’Annunzio P125 (1920) [15:46] c
La donna del sarcofago P121 (1919) [2:56] c
La statua P122 (1919) [3:43] c
Quattro arie scozzesi P143 (1924) [13:29] b
a Elisabetta Scano (soprano); b Andrea Catzel (soprano); c Leonardo de Lisi (tenor); a-c Reinild Mees (piano)
rec. August 2003, Philips Muziekcentrum Eindhoven
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS 14998 [74:48]

 

Any project which serves to make listeners familiar with some of the great body of Respighi’s work beyond the familiar orchestral pieces is to be applauded. I have no hesitation in offering applause - if slightly qualified - for this third volume of the Channel series of Respighi’s songs for voice and piano, prepared and performed under the guidance of the excellent Reinild Mees.

Mees has largely devoted herself to working as an accompanist. She is also the driving force behind The 20th Century Song Foundation (Stichting Het 20ste-eeuwse Lied), based in Amsterdam, which, as the liner-notes rather charmingly put it, "aims at fanning the flames of enthusiasm for the extensive repertory of songs written during the last century". Both in concert performance and on CD, Mees’ work has thrown fresh – and deserved – light on the songs of Karol Szymanowski and Franz Schreker as well as on Respighi, quite a number of whose songs were written for his wife Elsa – formerly, as Elsa Olivieri-Sangiacomo, one of his students – with whom Respighi gave many song recitals.

This present CD begins with four settings of Armenian folksongs – Respighi set folksongs from many cultures. The vocal lines here are reminiscent, at times, of Armenian chant and the piano accompaniments are attractively responsive to the texts and their moods. The first three songs (‘’No, non è morto il figlio tuo’, ‘La mamma è come il pane caldo’ and ‘Io sono la madre’) set texts by the modern poet Constant Zarian, while the fourth – and best – is a fine setting of words (‘Mattino di Luce’) by the hymnist Nersès the Gracious (1112-1173), one of the medieval leaders of the Armenian Church. The expressively prayerful text here receives a fully persuasive treatment from Respighi. Elizabetta Scano sings with clarity and precision, but not with any great subtlety of interpretation or variety of tone; her voice, at least as recorded here, is perhaps a little too ‘cool’ for such warmly Italianate music. Scano is the soloist in settings of two pastoral songs translated from the French, and her light voice is perhaps better suited to this often demanding music.

In the Cinque Liriche of 1917, Respighi sets two poems by Shelley (in translations by Robert Ascoli), two by the Swedish ‘decadent’ Jacques Conte d’Adelsward Fersen (1880-1923) and one by Tagore (translated by Clary Zannoni Chauvet). Respighi’s interest in – and particular responsiveness to – the poetry of Shelley is familiar from Il Tramonto (1918), where he again set a translation by Ascoli. Not surprisingly, these two Shelley lyrics (‘Time Long Past’ and ‘A Dirge’) draw from Respighi some of the best music to be heard on the CD. Again, Scano’s performances are good and competent, but lack the final refinements of interpretation.

In the six poems from D’annunzio’s the soloist is Leonardo di Lisi, an accomplished tenor, occasionally stretched by the lower passages in the songs, but radiant in the higher ones. There are some lovely melodies here, and di Lisi does something like full justice to them. The often shadowy nocturnal imagery of the four songs from the Poema Paradisiaco is matched by some gorgeously dark piano writing, in which the excellent Reinild Mees is very impressive.

The CD closes with four pieces I had not heard before, and with which I have immediately fallen in love! The ‘Four Scottish Airs’ are ‘The Piper of Dundee’, ‘When the Kye come hame’, ‘Within a Mile of Edinburgh Town’ and ‘My Hearts in the Highlands’. Retaining the traditional tunes (and the words are set in the original Scots) Respighi prepares for them and decorates them with piano writing of great inventiveness without ever distracting from the power of the originals. There are many subtle touches, many harmonic and rhythmic elegances. Why are these superb songs not better known? Here they get an outstanding performance from Andrea Catzel, passionate and intelligent in equal proportions, and from Mees, heard at something like her very best as an accompanist.

The earlier part of the programme, while never less than enjoyable, lacks the sheer spark of these four songs which close it. But everything here suggests how serious the neglect of Respighi’s songs has been, and all the performers (and Channel Classics) deserve our gratitude for their attempt to undo some of that neglect.

Glyn Pursglove


Review of Volume 1

 



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