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Ottorino RESPIGHI 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 strident edge.

The irresistible combination of this versatile quartet and famous singer, this very recent recording (April 2000) at mid price is a real winner.

Charlie Niven

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 Spanish colouring.

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

Ian Lace


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