Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936) Christus – Biblical Cantata (1898-99)
(tenor) – St. Matthew
Roland Hermann (baritone) – Christ Gastone Sarti (bass) – Judas Coro della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera
Italiana Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Marco Balderi
rec. live, Auditorium RTSI, June 1991. ADD LA BOTTEGA DISCANTICA
Christus was an apprentice work written before Respighi had reached twenty.
It was a composition assignment and not only unperformed
at the time but apparently pretty much forgotten by its composer.
The score is preserved in Bologna, at the Civico Museo Bibliographico
and it seems clear that the then violin student had previously
written only three very minor instrumental works. This makes
the big scale of this Biblical Cantata all the more noteworthy.
Respighi clearly wanted to flex some compositional sinew.
introduction announces influences as broadly German Romantic.
A British auditor might think vaguely of Parry, though that’s
a very approximate reference point. The writing is confident,
competent, swiftly lyrical and accommodating of moments for
the orchestral leader – Respighi thus thinking both of himself
as composer and as soloist manqué. The word setting is conventionally
syllabic. He threads reflective orchestral passages after
things such as the Temptation scene with precision and deft
appreciation of the dramatic dictates of the score. The Second
Part has a quasi-operatic force at the point of Judas’s kiss.
Here Respighi serves notice of the embryonic colourist to
come. As yet though his responses are too run-of-the-mill
for real individuality to have emerged. The pre-seizure scene
has corresponding quiet delicacy in the wind section and
the taking of the bread scene has more than its share of
Parsifalian hints. Then there’s the protracted finale, with
its Mastersinger-fixated moments and a fugal section. That’s
a shame because compression would have alleviated the callow
absorption of grandiose Wagnerian models. They quite unbalance
are three soloists with roles for a tenor, St Matthew, a
baritone, Christ, and for Judas the bass. The baritone is
rather blustery at times but all three are certainly committed
singers if not necessarily especially subtle. The recording
was made live in the Auditorium RTSI in June 1991. The copyright
is that of Claves so it’s possible that this has emerged
previously though if so it’s flown under my radar. Finally,
though the texts are in Latin and English to have only two
tracks is a distinct disadvantage in a two-part work lasting
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