Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Concerto in modo misolidio for piano and orchestra (1925) [36:32]
Fontane di Roma, poema sinfonico (1916) [17:16]
Olli Mustonen (piano)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
rec. The House of Culture, Helsinki, 14-16 October 2009, 17-18 December 2009. DDD
ONDINE ODE 1165-2 [53:48]
Respighi’s fame now rests on his three Roman poems and the Rossini based suites. He in fact wrote concertos as well as a whole sequence of operas seemingly in aspiring competition with Puccini. The Concerto Gregoriano is his violin concerto. In it the soloist rather than being protagonist serves as hortator and cantor. It is a most lovely work whose melodies follow the undulating contours of Gregorian plainchant. Adversarial or dramatic it is not. For this aspect we need to look at the contrasting delights of the Concerto in modo misolidio (Concerto in the Mixolydian mode) which is on a grand scale as to its duration and its content. Tozer’s Chandos recording runs to almost 41 minutes while Mustonen takes 36 or so. Even so that disc and its companions in the Edward Downes cycle must not be forgotten – they include the Sinfonia drammatica (CHAN 9213) and the Poema autunnale, Concerto gregoriano (Lydia Mordkovitch) and Ballata delle Gnomidi (CHAN 9232).
There is also a Piano Concerto in A minor (1902) from his Russian years – you can hear it on Chandos CHAN9285 (with the Misolidio) with Geoffrey Tozer and on Naxos 8.553207 from Konstantin Scherbakov (with two other works for piano and orchestra: the Toccata and Fantasia Slava). As for the Misolidio itself there are other recordings: Tozer on Chandos CHAN9285 (with the A minor), Scherbakov on Naxos 8.553366 (with Concerto a cinque) and Sonya Hanke and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by Myer Fredman on Marco Polo 8.220176 (with Three Preludes on Gregorian Themes). I have not heard these other discs.
The two concertos suffered through not attracting eminent enough soloists on the world stage. The Misolidio was premiered in New York on the last day of 1925 with Respighi as pianist and the NYPSO conducted by Mengelberg. The Misolidio has more drama in its DNA but it too feels the centrifugal pull of plainchant that carries all before it in Gregoriano. That medieval chant element is most strongly in evidence in the central movement. The concerto echoes Grieg at times, exults in language familiar from the Roman poems and in the exciting finale there are strands from Gershwin and Rachmaninov. There are even indications that Respighi had been impressed by De Falla’s Noches. The romping brass are a complete joy in that finale – sample the first couple of minutes and the hoarse stomping triumph at 2:32. The Fountains are well enough known. Suffice to say that Oramo gives the work its head in opulence and glowing Rosenkavalier delicacy.
The Ondine is at full price and the recording is superb whether roaring in manifold Straussian excess in the Fountains or in marginally more restrained drama in the first movement of the Concerto. The sound image is on a wide-stage but not so much as to be diffuse or lose coherence. The liner-note is by Richard Whitehouse.
I wonder if this entry heralds a second disc in 2011 with the other two poems and the Gregoriano. Who knows? The playing time is on the short side. One wonders whether anyone thought about the attractions of a coupling of the Misolidio and the Gregoriano. However in its own right this is a tasty high romantic work: a discovery – especially if your predilections run to Marx and Rachmaninov.

Rob Barnett
Looking for a tasty high romantic piano concerto? This will suit very well indeed.