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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936) The Works for Piano Four Hands
Pines of Rome [22:29]
Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 1, P. 109 [13:52]
Six Pieces for Piano 4 Hands, P. 149 [9:29]
Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 2, P. 138 [17:21]
Fountains of Rome [16:23]
Gabriele Baldocci and Francesco Caramiello (piano)
rec. 2016, Villa Caramiello Ercolano, Naples, Italy TACTUS TC871804 [79:48]
If there is a neglected area of Italian music, it is piano music, and in particular that for four-hands, although this is not the first recording of such music. All too often record companies stick to the age-old favourites of Grande Italian Opera at the expense of other aspects of a composer’s output, so when an enterprising release like this comes along, it should be grabbed with both hands, listened to and enjoyed.
Ottorino Respighi was a member of Italian classical music’s ‘golden generation’ for whom the opera was not the be-all and end-all. Yes, he composed operas, twelve to be exact, but his fame firmly rests on his orchestral output, which included the interesting and well worth investigating Sinfonia Drammatica as well as concertos. People usually know his music through his Roman Triptych but he also composed some very engaging works on a smaller scale, including string quartets, works for violin and piano and piano works, of which the Sonata in F minor is very good. He was also to arrange some of his orchestral music for piano four-hands – which is presented here.
The disc opens with a fascinating recording of the Pines of Rome, bright and lively. There is scope to imagine the orchestral effects in this arrangement, as the children play amongst the pine woods whilst the nightingale chatters in the right hand. Towards the end of this single-movement transcription, the Imperial Roman Army are clearly audible as they tramp through the forest on their way to and from war and conquest. It is strange to hear the piece in this version, but still rewarding. The excitement of the original still comes through to some extent.
The two sets of Ancient Airs and Dances work surprisingly well. Again, at first you tend to hear the original orchestral versions in your head, but this four-hand version fairly sparkles and dances along the keyboard. The arrangements are colourful and, whilst they are not as exciting as the original versions, there is still a great deal to grab and absorb the listener. The two sets of Ancient Airs are separated by the Six Pieces which are quite short and remarkable. The only original compositions for piano four-hands on this disc, they open with a Romanza which would be quite at home played by a musical box; the spritely tinkering fingers produces a pleasant melody. There is a more boisterous Canto di caccia siciliano, which has the air of a Neapolitan song, followed by a Canzone armena which is more lilting. This is followed by a jolly Christmas tune. Natale, Natale! But it is the final two pieces of the set which come as the main surprise here. The Cantilena scozzese and the Piccoli highlanders offer the listener music of a distinct Scottish lilt, charming.
In the final work on the disc, we return to the Roman Triptych, this time for the Fountains of Rome. The rippling and splashing of the water comes off well in the opening bars of La fontana di Valle Giulia all'alba, although again the depictions of the four fountains are given in a single expanse of music. Each of the character of the four fountains that we find in the original orchestral work comes across, each showing their own distinctive colour. La fontana di Trevi al meriggio works particularly well.
The performance of Gabriele Baldocci and Francesco Caramiello is excellent. They show an affinity amongst themselves, and the result is first-rate. Their nuanced performance brings out the best of this music, showing its full range of colour and variety. The recording is clear and bright, which helps bring out the virtuosity of the music and the performers. If I have a quibble, it is regarding the booklet notes, informative but a little shot. The booklet could have done with an extra four pages so that the text could be spread out in order to make it more reader-friendly.
This disc, a must for any fans of the music of Ottorino Respighi, is interesting and enjoyable, well worth listening to.