Tramonto. String Quartets. Anne Sophie von Otter; The Brodsky Quartet
Vanguard Classics 99216 [65:17]
This recording comprises performances of two of Respighi’s
string quartets: that in D major (re maggiore) of 1904 and that in the
Dorian mode (Quartetto Dorico) of 1924.
Quartetto in re maggiore n. 3 (P 053)
This work dates from the time when the composer was
a member of the Mugellini Quartet in Bologna and was first performed
in 1906; it belongs to his early period. It is in four sections: allegro
moderato, tema con variazioni, intermezzo and finale. The Brodskys give
a warm, open-hearted account of this section and the tempo is as indicated.
The theme of the second section will be familiar to those who know Respighi’s
works from this period; it has rather a sense of longing. The variations
are taken up by the different instruments in turn and a mournful-sounding
variation is given by the violins and viola accompanied by staccato
cello. Rising and falling themes reminiscent of Puccini’s "Crisantemi"
on violins feature in the third section which transforms into a rondo-like
passage where each instrument successively takes them up. The last section
consisting of taut allegros (which seems to presage the Violin Sonata
of 1917) has separate, exuberant, solos for the violin and viola ending
in a dramatic flourish Il Tramonto
The world famous mezzo Anne Sophie von Otter again
appears on a Respighi recording, the first having been in Lauda per
la Nativita del Signore in 1981. Perhaps appearance is the wrong
word to use since she is represented on the cover as a large photograph
of an otter [necessitated by contractual stipulations - Ed.] being stared
at by the members of the Brodsky Quartet! She gives an excellent performance.
Her expression becomes wonderfully distinct and touching in the last
section. The Brodskys are very keen to please in this piece and this,
perhaps, leads to some imbalance between soloist and strings in the
early part of the work.
Quartetto Dorico (P 144)
This work dates from a very prolific period when Respighi
was becoming internationally famous with Pini di Roma. He based
the work on one of the ancient modes, Dorian (or Doric). It is played
through as a single movement but this can be divided into 4 sections
I. Energico, 2. Allegro moderato, 3. Elegiaco (adagio), 4. Moderato
energico (Passacaglia). The Brodskys give out the (chorale) theme strongly
and it is expanded and taken up consecutively by each instrument. The
performance varies between strong, almost strident or harsh and changes
to sweeping lyrical passages in quick succession. The scherzo section
is flowing but the fugato at the end is more vivace and the players
give it a kind of post-modern edge. The adagio section follows smoothly
on and the Brodskys bring out the supporting parts for ‘cello and viola
with darting cross movements for first violin leading the way. The finale
section recapitulates the Dorian theme and the players give an excellent
taut rendition of the complex interplay and again give the music a certain
The irresistible combination of this versatile quartet
and famous singer, this very recent recording (April 2000) at mid price
is a real winner.
Collection: 20th Century Italian Piano Music Ottorino
RESPIGHI (1879-1936) Valse; Canone; Notturno; Mimuetto; Studio; Intermezzo.
Franco ALFANO (1875-1954) Four pieces: Mazurka; Komanzetta; Fable; and
Causerie. Nostalgie. Ildebrando PIZZETTI (1880-1968) Sogno; Canti di
Ricordanza Nos. 1 - 4 Poemetto Romantico: Appassionato; Intermezzo;
Triste Riccardo Sandiford (piano) BONGIOVANNI GB 5099-2 [69:061
Think of Italian music and think of opera. But a small
group of musicians sought to free themselves from the shackles of this
exclusivity and, instead, turned to other musical forms. Born around
the same time in the 1880s they broke away from operatic conventions
and explored other genres. They were: Franco Alfano, Ottorino Respighi,
Ildebrando Pizzetti, Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973) and Alfredo
Casella (1883-1947). They carried on the pioneering work of Respighi’s
teacher Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909). This CD includes piano music
by three of the "Eighties Generation". It is interesting to
note that their music alternates between a longing for innovation and
a conscious retrieval of the past.
Respighi’s compositions for piano are small in number.
The six pieces on this album are colourful and full of charm. The opening
florid Valse caressante caresses the ear with its easy-going salon style
that hides some complexity of texture. It is intimate, relaxed and dreamily
nostalgic. Canone nicely balances romance with classical formality.
The standout piece is Notturno that has a haunting, almost hypnotic
limpid beauty with its concentric ripples and gentle introspection.
Technically, it demonstrates that Respighi was keeping abreast of the
times because of its effects, its fleeting reflections, refracting harmonies,
and transparent colours, rather like Debussy and Ravel were using during
the same period. Equally memorable and enchanting, is the beautifully
decorated Intermezzo an unashamedly romantic piece with a gorgeous melody
of nostalgic yearning. Minuetto has grace and charm while Studio demands
great agility and a clean touch to surmount its tricky 12/8 rhythm pattern.
Franco Alfano is remembered mostly for having completed
Puccini’s Turandot. His refined piano music shows influences
of Debussy and Strauss. His Four Pieces were written when he was 24.
His Mazurka is intimate and informal yet frolicsome and capricious too
- one notices snatches of Scotch snap and polonaise as well as the rhythms
of the mazurka - there is a distinct feeling of extemporisation. The
Romanzetta is a delightful coyly romantic piece reminiscent of Schumann
- so, too, is Fable but this faster-moving, more complex piece is altogether
more proud and virile. With Causerie Alfano moves away from dreamy romanticism
and gives us a sophisticated, witty piece that seems to imitate the
light babble of a chat. Nostalgie composed in 1918 is even more progressive
Alfano takes two well-known songs from his beloved Naples and breaks
them up in chiaroscuro writing that also exploits a modal scale with
Pizzetti’s Sogno was written when he was a student
of 18. His subtitle for the work is "Lirica per pianoforte"
and it alludes to his interest in opera and song. Its sentimental ballad-like
sweetness is tempered by some robust heroic and tragic writing. Poemetto
Romantico (1909) is imbued with feelings of nostalgia and a worrying
awareness of change and crisis at the turn of the century. As the author
of the erudite booklet notes, Francesco Ermini Polacci, suggests, the
work seems to be offering "a sort of sombre farewell to Romanticism"
- most apparent in the beautiful meditative Triste. Appassionato is
elegant, discreet, introspective, sometimes passionate. Intermezzo is
lovely calm and relaxed, almost hymn-like. Pizzetti’s Canti di Ricordanza
were written during the horrors of World War II. They bear the anxieties
of the times with some dejected and chaotic military figures but there
are also pages of peace and calm. Pizzetti once uses bell-like figures
to banish his ghosts and draws on the stability of Gregorian chant in
a desire for purity and spirituality. Sandiford’s polished playing and
considerable style and finesse brings out the delicate beauty of these
pieces as well as plumbing their emotional depths. For the adventurous
this is a very rewarding collection which I recommend most heartily
Return to Respighi Home page