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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Complete orchestral music - volume 3
Concerto gregoriano for violin and orchestra (1921) [31:46]
Toccata for piano and orchestra (1928) [24:54]
Adagio con variazioni for cello and orchestra (1928) [13:16]
Sinfonia dramatica (1914) [61:00]
Fanatasia slava (1903) [10:11]
Vadim Brodsky (violin), Chiara Bertoglio (piano) (Toccata), Andrea Noferini (cello), Desirée Scuccuglia (piano) (Fantasia)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia
rec. 30 June, 2009 - 18 June, 2011, OSR Studios, Auditorium Concilazione, Rome. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94394 [70:12 + 72:19] 

This third volume of Respighi’s complete orchestral music features one of his longest compositions, the Sinfonia drammatica, and a good number of his works for solo instrument and orchestra. For someone known nowadays almost exclusively for his orchestral works, particularly the Roman trilogy of symphonic poems, Respighi wrote a surprising number of concertos, although they are not always so called. Of the works in this set only one, the Concerto gregoriano, is a conventional concerto with distinct movements. The rest are all in one movement, albeit - in the case of the Toccata - with two distinct sections. The titles of these works also show Respighi’s continuing interest in early and Baroque music, something that is further evinced in the Ancient Airs and Dances suites of 1917, 1923 and 1932.
 
The Concerto gregoriano begins soberly, with a flowering solo line which reminded me of Vaughan Williams’ The lark ascending; this association is reinforced by the modal-sounding harmonies. Vadim Brodsky throws himself enthusiastically into the solo part, the more extravert passages being played with plenty of brio, while the quieter passages are tenderly phrased. As with several other works in this set, the music occasionally has a rather movie score character, notably in the finale, marked Alleluja. Respighi was a good violinist, and his writing for the instrument is always effective. Brodsky is quite forward in the balance, but his tone is attractive, and his intonation quite reliable after a few slips in the first movement. The timings are faster than Lydia Mordkovich’s recording by about a minute in each of the last two movements.
 
As the Toccata’s title suggests, this is one of Respighi’s neo-classical works. It has a full-blooded beginning rather reminiscent of Stokowski’s Bach arrangements. Respighi’s homage to the Baroque, however, lacks the rhythmic drive found in Stravinsky’s neo-classical scores, and I found the whole thing a bit long for its material. Part of the problem is in the piano writing, which is less assured than that in the Concerto gregoriano. Chiara Bertoglio plays the solo part effectively.
 
The Andante con variazioni for cello and orchestra is a reworking of the second movement of an early cello concerto. It has a mostly autumnal mood, rather like Geoffrey Burgon’s score for Brideshead Revisited. Andrea Noferini has warm, full tone, particularly on the lower strings, and fine legato phrasing. He is even further forward in the balance than was Brodsky; his intonation is not always spot on, but improves as the performance progresses. This is an enjoyable if rather un-memorable work, again written with a good understanding of the instrument.
 
The Sinfonia drammatica for me failed to live up to its name. The liner-notes comment, with a tone of surprise, that it has failed to become part of the symphonic repertoire. Anyone who hears it, however, will instantly grasp the reason for its neglect. It is a bore. “Mahler 2 goes to the movies” would be an appropriate subtitle for this too-lengthy work. Unfortunately the material is thin and undistinguished, completely lacking the intensity and originality of the Resurrection symphony. Respighi’s genius for orchestration is evident, as are echoes of Richard Strauss and movie scores. But this is not enough to sustain one’s attention for over an hour.
 
The Fantasia slava is an early, one-movement work in the Rachmaninovian style. This work also has more manner than matter, but is quite entertaining and is very well played by Desirée Scuccuglia. All the soloists are skilfully accompanied by Francesco La Vecchia, who conducts with energy and conviction throughout. The Rome orchestra responds enthusiastically, and the orchestral sound has plenty of colour and presence, with nice grip from the brass at the tuttis.
 
A must for Respighi fans, and anyone wanting to explore this currently neglected composer.  

Guy Aron 

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