This Naxos release, volume one of the complete works for violin and piano, comes hot on the heels of a very fine Brilliant Classics CD. The latter duplicates the Violin Sonata in D minor and the Six Pieces (Brilliant Classics 94445).
Ottorino Respighi is best known for his exuberant and expansive orchestral works, such as the Roman Trilogy, but he was also a composer of chamber and salon music. His musical education began with him learning violin and piano as a child. For the first twenty years of his career as a composer he only wrote for these instruments. He was an accomplished violinist, and his mastery of the instrument manifests itself in the idiomatic violin-writing heard in the works on this disc.
The early D minor sonata is colourful and tuneful. The sense of structure may surprise those who judge Respighi by the sprawling Roman tone poems. The outer movements contain dynamic, soaring melodies in the grand romantic style. Brahms comes to mind. The central adagio is also Germanic in character. This is an enjoyable sonata but it is very much an early attempt. His superb sonata in B minor (not included here), composed some twenty years later, is a superior composition altogether. I assume this will be the cornerstone of volume two of this Naxos project.
The Six Pieces for violin and piano, written between 1901 and 1912, are beautiful miniatures. Here, we enter the realms of the salon. It’s elegant, well written light music but nothing more than that. The opening melancholic berceuse and the third movement - Leggenda - are the two stand-out movements. The Five Pieces for violin and piano from 1906 offer more of the same. The opening Romanza has an instant lyrical appeal and the set is rounded off by a dashing Humoresque.
Now to a straight comparison. We have Paggioro/Ferrati on Brilliant vs Bernecoli/Bianchi on Naxos. On Brilliant the works are performed wonderfully well by Paggioro and Ferrati. This is an equal musical partnership and their playing is of the highest quality throughout. The recording is clear and sonorous and the only real complaint is the regular sniffing by Paggioro (I assume) which is captured rather realistically by the microphones. On Naxos the performance of the sonata is just too overblown for my taste. The playing is technically fine but the general approach just misses the straightforward simplicity of Paggioro’s version. To be fair it’s pretty much a dead heat in the two sets of salon pieces. The Naxos recording is somewhat uncomfortable to listen to with a huge, forward violin image and the piano given a supporting role. It sounds less natural than the Brilliant disc and some of the high violin passages do become overbearing at times.
Paggioro gives us a fine reading of the serious, magnificent Sonata in B minor. It will be interesting to hear what Bernecoli does with the piece on her second Naxos volume. Overall, the Naxos performances are good but the Brilliant CD just edges it in the sonata. The Brilliant Classics sound quality is also to be preferred.
Previous review: Lucy
Violin Sonata in D Minor P 15
I. Lento – Allegro – Lento – Assai animato
III. Scherzo. Allegretto
Six Pieces for Violin and Piano P 31
IV. Valse caressante
Five Pieces for Violin and Piano P 62