Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Quartetto Dorico (1924) [21:59]
Sonata in B minor for violin and piano (1916-17) [26:55]
Six Pieces for Violin and Piano*: Berceuse; Melodia; Leggenda; Valse caressante; Serenata; Aria (1901-05) [28:58]
Quartetto della Scala
Claudio Voghera* (piano); Francesco Manara* (violin)
rec. Bartók Studio, Bernareggio, near Milan, Italy, February 2011.
CONCERTO CD 2060 [77:52]

Respighi’s Quartetto Dorico dates from a prolific period when works like Pines of Rome were bringing the composer international fame. Indeed, Quartetto Dorico met with acclaim when it was performed by a quartet including Respighi himself in New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1925.

Respighi’s heightened sense of colour is strongly felt in the Dorico. The work seems to leap out of the usual sonic confines of a string quartet, to such an extent that one can easily imagine a string orchestra playing. As the nomenclature ‘Doric’ implies, the main theme is based on the old church mode, and this unifies its constantly evolving web through a continuous 22-minute span. It is played through as a single movement but this can be divided into four sections: Energico; Allegro moderato; Elegiaco (adagio) and Moderato energico (Passacaglia). The Quartetto della Scala bring passion and attack to its elated passages and serene beauty to others of quiet supplication. The ensemble playing is finely attuned and articulated.

The Sonata for Violin and Piano is a lyrical creation in the Late Romantic tradition, the first movement passionate, sometimes turbulently so, and sweetly romantic. The opening Moderato has Respighi writing in the tradition of the late 19th century Russian Romantics rather than being inspired by ancient modes and the early Italian masters. The lovely Andante caresses the ear, the piano’s bell-like figurations counterpointing the violin’s long-breathed song of yearning. Respighi, in the final movement, nods back to former times, in so far as it utilises the old Italian form of a Passacaglia (ground bass and variations).

My colleague Charles Niven, Treasurer of the now defunct Respighi Society has written, “The way Respighi has crafted the music means that considerable virtuosity is required of both players. The interplay between the two instrumentalists is really the heart of the work and this requires soloists of equal standing. Perhaps this need explains the relative paucity of recordings; there have been only twenty recordings ... Jascha Heifetz championed the work and his 1950 recording with Emanuel Bay on RCA Victor Gold Seal is the most famous. Very few contemporary violinists have attempted a recording or given performances. As if to reinforce the point that when outstanding artists do get together to perform this work the result will be impressive, the recording with Kyung-Wha Chung and Krystian Zimerman won the Gramophone Award for Chamber Music in 1989. This was later re-released at mid-price coupled with the Strauss violin sonata: DG 4579072.” The partnership of Manara and Voghera scales, with aplomb, the virtuosic heights demanded by this work.

The charming Six Pieces for Violin and Piano is enchanting salon music written between 1901 and 1905 and typical of the ‘English Edwardian’ period. So much of it reminds one of the music of Elgar. The pieces have diverse origins. The opening Berceuse, originally conceived as a piece for a string ensemble, has the violin weaving a nostalgic melody over a rippling piano accompaniment. In very similar vein, the sugary Melodia is alone in being originally conceived for violin and piano. Leggenda first planned for violin and orchestra, and the most considerable piece, is more introspective and dramatic. The fourth piece was originally for piano alone; its marking Valse caressante, speaks for itself - it is a glittering waltz that enchants the ear although Manara’s interpretation is a tad too spiky. The gorgeous, lilting, dreamy Serenata, the shortest piece, was a number from the opera Re Enzo. Finally, Aria, which had been composed in St Petersburg where Respighi worked with Rimsky-Korsakov, was originally written for strings and organ.

A worthy collection of less well-known Respighi chamber pieces performed with virtuosity and vivacity.

Ian Lace

A worthy collection of less well-known Respighi chamber pieces performed with virtuosity and vivacity.