Respighi: Concerto All'antica; Ancient Airs and Dances. © 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd

CD Spotlight

Lusciously Fragile

Music by Ottorino Respighi, enjoyed by GERALD FENECH

'Davide Alogna performs the Concerto with unbridled dexterity ...'


Born in Bologna on 9 July 1879, Ottorino Respighi is perhaps best known for his Roman Trilogy: Fontane di Roma, Pini di Roma and Feste Romane. His twentieth century works gave birth to a renaissance of Italian symphonic music, and a restored appreciation of Renaissance and Baroque musical forms. His orchestral compositions are thus considered the culmination of the Italian symphonic repertoire. Of equal importance is Respighi's embracement of the continuity of tradition with a love of the ancient world, and consequently instigated a revival of musical ideas within the context of late nineteenth and twentieth century elements. Respighi's substantial compositional output includes some two hundred works that include symphonic music, operas, transcriptions and, sadly, a handful of unfinished pieces. The composer first made his mark in 1908 in a Berlin concert conducted by the famous Arthur Nikisch. The work in question was the premiere of an orchestration of Monteverdi's Lamento di Arianna, which received glowing reviews from the German press, praising Respighi's magnificent elaboration and orchestration.

On his home front, the composer also came in for high admiration with the first performance of his opera Semirama in Bologna in November 1910. Indeed, this is what the famous Ildebrando Pizzetti wrote of the man: 'One can say with certainty that, with his Semirama, Ottorino Respighi has demonstrated tonight such quality both in his masterly skill and as an opera composer, to have us believe that in him Italy will soon have one of its most respected musicians'. International recognition came in 1917, when Fontane di Roma made its bow. Following his graduation from the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, Respighi travelled to Russia to become principal violist for the Russian Imperial Theatre Orchestra of St Petersburg for its season of Italian opera. During his stay, Respighi studied composition for five months with Rimsky-Korsakov. From 1908 to 1909 he spent some time performing in Germany and also studied with Max Bruch. These invaluable experiences served Respighi no end in his future career as a composer of symphonic music, and his works from then on took a more sophisticated form. After he was appointed a teacher of composition at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome in 1913, Respighi settled in the Italian capital for the rest of his life.

In his role as musicologist, Respighi was also an enthusiastic scholar of Italian music of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. He published editions of the music of Monteverdi and Vivaldi and of Benedetto Marcello's Didone, and this passionate interest in the music of the past brought him fame and respect throughout the whole musical world. He continued to compose and tour until January 1936, after which he became gravely ill with a cardiac infection resulting from a tooth ailment. He died from heart failure on 18 April of that same year, aged fifty-six.

Respighi orchestrated three sets of old lute music between 1917 and 1932, the first two employing woodwind and brass and woodwind and harp as well as strings, and the third for strings alone. Each set or suite has four movements, but most of these have a number of different portions of lute music included, so that you have these very short movements, which rarely take up more than five minutes, all with a lot of internal variety.

Listen — Respighi: Campanae parisienses (Antiche danze ed arie per liuto, Suite II)
(track 14, 0:00-0:59) ℗ 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

Much of the original music was intended for dancing, and Salvatore di Vittorio, who is an intense researcher on Respighi, expertly lays them out. Two things are special about these suites: a) the music chosen is full of attractive rhythms and melodies; b) Respighi's orchestration is as skillful as it is masterly. The variety of textures, even in the suite for strings alone, is absolutely delightful, and the harp, which is present in many of the movements in the first two suites, probably to recreate the sound of the old lute, paints a lusciously fragile sound that melts on the ear.

Listen — Respighi: Villanella (Antiche danze ed arie per liuto, Suite I)
(track 6, 0:00-0:55) ℗ 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

The Concerto all'antica is also in the same vein, but Respighi did not give much value to it. It dates from the composer's time in Berlin (1908-09), and started life as a 'Concerto per violino all'Antica'. Later it was referred to as a 'Concerto in an Ancient Style' by an anonymous composer, revised and orchestrated by Respighi. Well, the mystery composer was none other than Respighi himself, who wanted to play a joke on the German critics. Due to a disagreement between Casa Ricordi and the composer in 1923, this Concerto was never published in Respighi's lifetime. Publication finally came about in 1990 under the present name, and this recording features the first critical edition published in 2019 by the conductor of this undertaking under Casa Ricordi. This is very sophisticated and highly attractive music that makes one feel that, after all, life is not only toil and strife. Indeed, we can once in a while indulge in a dance or two, as long as we are in the presence of such entrancing sounds. Davide Alogna performs the Concerto with unbridled dexterity, and his virtuosic gifts enable him to surmount all the challenges that Respighi sets with consummate ease.

Listen — Respighi: Vivace (Concerto all’antica)
(track 3, 8:08-9:08) ℗ 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

Faultless performances from Di Vittorio and his New Yorkers complete an enchanting disc full of amiable yet at times vibrant momenti musicali all'antica.

Sound and annotations are first-rate, while the playing time is generous indeed. Great stuff, great choice.

Copyright © 13 March 2021 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta






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