Carmen Suite; Pini di Roma. © 2019 BRmedia Service GmbH

CD Spotlight

Fierce Criticism

GERALD FENECH listens to orchestral music
by Rodion Shchedrin and Ottorino Respighi

'... a fitting tribute to Mariss Jansons ...'


Let me start with the recording dates of these two works, and there is a worthwhile reason indeed for doing so. Schtschedrin's Carmen-Suite was recorded live on 17 November 2017. Respighi's Pini di Roma was also recorded live on 17 May 2019. Some seven months later following the latter instance, Mariss Janson went to conduct the celestial choirs after a prodigious life all dedicated to his overwhelming passion - music. So this CD can be regarded as the very last concert he conducted that was put on the audio medium. I am not absolutely sure of this, but I have a strong hunch that so it panned out.

Now to the programme. In 1967, Rodion Shchedrin (born 1932) composed his Carmen-Suite, which remains his most popular and often-played work worldwide. It was written for his wife Maya Plisetskaya, long-time ballerina at the Bolshoi. The legendary dancer had previously asked both Shostakovich and Khatchaturian to compose a ballet based on Bizet's masterpiece especially for her. When both declined, her husband finally agreed to her repeated requests. The composer found himself in a quandary on how to write something original. After much thought he decided to compose music for strings and forty-seven percussion instruments, thus changing the style of Bizet's orchestration immensely.

Listen — Rodion Shchedrin: Scene. Allegro moderato (Carmen-Suite)
(track 6, 2:38-3:36) © 2019 BRmedia Service GmbH :

The premiere on 20 April 1967 at the Bolshoi Theatre was an all-out scandal. Carmen was too impetuous and impulsive for the prudish Soviet audience of the time, and the scantily-clad Maya's erotic performance drew fierce criticism from Yekaterina Furtseva, the Soviet Minister for culture. Indeed, the second performance was banned, and it was only through the intervention of Shostakovich that the ballet gradually entered the theatre repertoires. 'Carmen dies when I die': so said the great Plisetskaya. And she was vindicated. She kept dancing the role until 1990, when she was sixty-five, after giving some 350 performances of the work.

Listen — Rodion Shchedrin: Adagio. Andante moderato (Carmen-Suite)
(track 11, 0:31-1:22) © 2019 BRmedia Service GmbH :

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) was one of the so called 'Generazione degli Ottanta', a group of Italian composers intent on freeing the local music scene from operatic cliché. The goal was for Italian music to become part of European modernity, and although Respighi did write operas, he remains justly famous for his symphonic works. For a time he took lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov while in St Petersburg, and was hugely interested in French impressionism and the gigantic orchestral pieces of Richard Strauss and his contemporaries.

Listen — Respighi: The Pines of the Villa Borghese (Pini di Roma)
(track 14, 1:01-1:45) © 2019 BRmedia Service GmbH :

His 1924 Pini di Roma, which forms part of the so-called 'Roman Trilogy', is a symphonic poem in four parts describing the pine trees of the capital in four different locations during four different times of the day. Respighi's tone painting is wonderfully atmospheric; a mixture of the joyous, exotic, solemn, serene and spectacular aspects.

Listen — Respighi: The Pines of the Gianicolo (Pini di Roma)
(track 16, 4:31-5:20) © 2019 BRmedia Service GmbH :

This is a unique recording in excellent sound quality and descriptive annotations, but above all a fitting tribute to Mariss Jansons, the musician with an engaging smile and unerring musical temperament who brought joy to millions with love and humility. God blessed you with a great gift Mariss. Now enjoy your conducting of Heaven's unfinished symphony.

Copyright © 18 June 2020 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta







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