Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Complete Orchestral Music - Volume 4
Antiche danze e arie per liuto suites 1-3 [52:33]
Rossiniana Suite for orchestra, after Rossini [24:19]
Concerto in modo misolidio for piano and orchestra [40:32]
Metamorphoseon modi XII [35:54]
Désirée Scuccuglia (piano)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia
rec. 2009-2012, Auditorium Conciliazione, Rome
Track List at end of review
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94395 [76:52 + 76:35]

This is volume 4 of Brilliant Classics' survey of Respighi's complete orchestral music. It includes the splendid Ancient Airs and Dances coupled with the attractive Rossiniana Suite. Metamorphoseon modi XII is a masterpiece and a real discovery, for me at least. The concerto has less appeal.
Respighi’s justly famous set of suites entitled Ancient Airs and Dances draws its material from Renaissance and Baroque dances, some of folk music origin, others from lute pieces written by Italian composers Molinari, Galilei, Caroso and Roncalli. The third suite, scored for strings alone, has established a place in the repertoire but the first two suites are very attractive in their own right. The high spirited music gives Respighi the opportunity to showcase his talent for orchestration in the livelier dance movements. The orchestration is masterly and tasteful. The music, always tuneful, is bright and breezy on the whole but there are also some melancholic moments and this variation in mood always makes Respighi’s realizations both ear-catching and captivating. The Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma gives a sparkling performance of all three suites and the playing is enthusiastic, graceful and nicely detailed with good contributions from the woodwind soloists. There are a few moments of shaky ensemble but these are few and far between. The sound is bright and reverberant but occasionally, in the high violin passages, it can become tiring and uncomfortable. The darker, more melancholic moments are not as moving as they are in the hands of Dorati, whose superb Mercury version is in a different class altogether. Despite the age of the Mercury recording, its drier acoustic actually yields more detail than the digital Brilliant Classics offering and the playing is somehow more involving.
Rossiniana shows Respighi in a more garish mood. As always his orchestrations are top-notch but in this suite he just about manages to stay on the right side of good taste. The material is taken from Rossini's piano pieces, the same source that also provided the basis for Boutique Fantasque. The suite has its moments - the second movement Lamento is a delight - but overall it’s no surprise that the last movement, the Tarantella ‘pur sangue’, is the best known and most often performed. Unfortunately I can’t be very enthusiastic about this new recording. Sonically, it is washy and distant with poor focus and very little detail. The impression is one of a small orchestra set back in a swimming pool. The cavernous acoustic could also be the reason for patches of shoddy articulation and ragged ensemble. The playing is highly enthusiastic but no more than that. This would have sounded great fun at a live concert but for repeated listening it really isn’t good enough. 

The Concerto in modo misolidio for piano and orchestra received a lukewarm reception at its first performance. Its main theme is based on a Gregorian chant. The opening movement really outstays its welcome at 19 minutes. The material includes the plainchant Viri Galilaei and an oriental arabesque. There are three lengthy - but not particularly virtuosic - cadenzas and formally the music seems to lack any sort of coherent structure. The musical ideas are sound enough but as a whole this is most unsatisfying. The music sounds hollow and full of unconvincing romantic gestures. The slow movement gives the listener some respite from the bombastic rhetoric of the first movement and the opening theme on the strings is quite beautiful as is the central brass chorale. The finale is a called a passacaglia but it’s hardly a good example of the form. The music is quite inventive but not especially memorable. The concerto receives an excellent performance by Désirée Scuccuglia and the orchestra but it’s not a work that I will return to. 

Finally, some sanity returns with the highlight of the set - a fine version ofMetamorphoseon modi XII. This was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1930. It consists of twelve variations on an original theme composed in modal style by Respighi. I hadn’t come across the piece before and it came as a very pleasant surprise. It’s a delight. Each of the varied sections is very well-crafted and cohesive with some demanding passages for the orchestral soloists. It’s virtually a Concerto for Orchestra and structurally is most impressive. The orchestra, in stupendous form, rises to the challenge, especially the string players who sound absolutely gorgeous. No complaints about the sound quality either. It’s the best thing in this set by a country mile. The only quibble is that separate tracks would have helped the listener navigate the thirteen sections.
A mixed bag so buy with considerable caution but includes a fine version ofMetamorphoseon which is a delight for which the orchestra is in stupendous form.
John Whitmore 

Track list:-

CD 1 [76:52]

Antiche danze e arie per liuto
Suite No.1 (1917)
1 I. Balletto detto 'Il Conte Orlando' [Simone Molinaro]: Allegretto moderato 4'05
2 II. Gagliarda [Vincenzo Galilei]: Allegro marcato -- Andantino mosso 3'24
3 III. Villanella [anon., end of 16th century]: Andante cantabile -- Poco più mosso -- Tempo I 4'22
4 IV. Passo mezzo e Mascherada (anon., end of 16th century): Allegro vivo -- Vivacissimo -- Allegretto -- Vivace --
Allegretto -- Vivo -- Vivacissimo -- Meno -- Tempo I 3'36
Suite No.2 (1923)
5 I. Laura soave. Andantino -- Allegro marcato -- Lo stesso tempo -- Andantino 3'32
6 II. Danza rustica. Allegretto 3'50
7 III. Campanae Parisienses. Andante mosso -- Aria. Largo espressivo 7'35
8 IV. Bergamasca. Allegro 4'38
Suite No.3 (1931)
9 I. Italiana. Andantino 2'59
10 II. Arie di corte. Andante cantabile -- Allegretto -- Lento con grande espressione -- Allegro vivace -- Vivacissimo -- Andante cantabile 6'57
11 III. Siciliana. Andantino 3'46
12 IV. Passacaglia. Maestoso -- Vivace 3'17
Rossiniana (1925) Suite for orchestra, after Rossini
13 I. 'Capri e Taormina' (Barcarolla e Siciliana): Allegretto -- Andantino -- Allegretto 6'01
14 II. Lamento: Andantino maestoso 7'59
15 III. Intermezzo: Allegretto -- Poco più mosso -- Tempo I 2'23
16 IV. Tarantella 'pur sangue' (con passaggio de la processione). Allegro vivacissimo -- Andante religioso -- Tempo I 7'56
CD 2 [76:35]
Concerto in modo misolidio (1925) for piano and orchestra
1 I. Moderato 19'12
2 II. Lento 9'17
3 III. Passacaglia: Allegro energico 12'03
4 Metamorphoseon modi XII (1930) 35'54
I. Theme: Andante moderato
II. Modus I: Moderato non troppo
III. Modus II: Allegretto
IV. Modus III: Lento
V. Modus IV: Lento espressivo
VI. Modus V: Molto vivace
VII. Modus VI: Vivo
VIII. Modus VII: Cadenza
IX. Modus VIII: Andantino mosso
X. Modus IX: Lento non troppo
XI. Modus X: Molto allegro
XII. Modus XI: Molto allegro
XIII. Modus XII: Vivo non troppo 

Earlier volumes in this series featuring Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma conducted by Francesco La Vecchia:
Volume 1: 94392 Roman Trilogy, Gli Uccelli, Suite for Strings, Suite in G
Volume 2: 94393 Concerto A Cinque, Poema Autunnale, Concerto All’antica; Impressioni Brasiliane, Trittico Botticelliano, Vetrate Di Chiesa
Volume 3 : 94394 Concerto gregoriano, Toccata for piano and orchestra, Adagio con variazioni for cello and orchestra, Sinfonia drammatica, Fantasia slava

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