Respighi: Ballad of the Gnomes; Three Botticelli Pictures. © 2023 Cala Signum

CD Spotlight

Glittering and Colourful

Orchestral music by Respighi, heard by GEOFF PEARCE

'This is a lovely disc which will delight most listeners ...'


Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) was a very fine composer active in the first half of the twentieth century, whose music is much admired for its dazzling orchestration, melodic invention and ready approachability by most of the concert going public. These days he is perhaps best known for some of his tone poems and orchestral suites. It is worth delving into some of his lesser known works too, as they make very rewarding listening.

I had not heard the first work here before - Ballad of the Gnomes. A work of some fifteen minutes in duration, it was written between the well-known works The Fountains of Rome (1918) and The Pines of Rome (1925). It was inspired by some text written by the multi-talented lawyer and poet Carlo Clausetti (1869-1943), whose other talents also included being a composer. The plot, quite gruesome, is outlined in the enclosed booklet. The music, glittering and colourful, is quite dramatic in places, and those familiar with the style of the two tone poems that surround it will note the hallmark Respighi style. It is well worth familiarising oneself with.

Listen — Respighi: Ballad of the Gnomes
(SIGCD2161 track 1, 9:05-9:53) ℗ 2006 Cala Records :

The Three Botticelli Pictures, one of my favourite Respighi works, was also the first work of his I ever heard. At the time I was moved by the orchestration and the melodies, and my fondness for this work has not diminished over the years. It is in three movements: 'Spring', 'The Adoration of The Magi' and 'The Birth of Venus'. The pictures that inspired this work are well known. First performed in 1927, this work does not use large orchestral forces, and the orchestration is 'luminous and transparent' as the attached notes mention. These little pieces are delightful and deserve to be heard.

Listen — Respighi: The Birth of Venus (Three Botticelli Pictures)
(SIGCD2161 track 4, 2:16-2:59) ℗ 2006 Cala Records :

The next work, the Suite in G major for string orchestra and organ, was not known to me at all. It is an early work, composed in 1905 (although the second movement 'Aria' was composed three years earlier). It is the product of Respighi's fondness for works of the Italian Baroque, and baroque music generally was an interest that Respighi maintained all his life. It is in four movements. The opening movement is is grand style and the figure does remind one a little of the Bach toccatas and other organ works. The second movement, 'Aria', is a lovely heartfelt movement. The third, a pastorale, is gentle and reflective. The last movement, 'Cantico', is one where at the opening and in a few places, Leslie Person's organ emerges from the orchestral texture and has important solos of its own. I was pleased to hear this work.

Listen — Respighi: Cantico (Suite in G)
(SIGCD2161 track 8, 0:00-0:47) ℗ 2006 Cala Records :

The Adagio with Variations for Cello and Orchestra is also another work I had not heard of before. This began its life early in Respighi's composing career, and was originally for cello and piano, but he revisited it in 1921 and added an orchestral setting and this is the version that we hear here. It is not a long work, taking about thirteen minutes in total. Mostly reflective and warm, it does not provide soloist Alexander Baillie with any bravura or showy passages, but instead focusses on the singing and lyrical qualities of the cello. The accompanying orchestral writing is warm and expressive, and I like very much his use of the cor anglais which emerges with some delicious solos.

Listen — Respighi: Adagio with Variations for Cello and Orchestra
(SIGCD2161 track 9, 4:51-5:48) ℗ 2006 Cala Records :

This is a lovely disc which will delight most listeners, and the Philharmonia Orchestra with conductor Geoffrey Simon and two fine soloists - cellist Alexander Baillie and organist Leslie Person - produce a disc that is a real credit to themselves and to the recording engineers. I also enjoyed the well written informative booklet that goes with this re-release.

Copyright © 21 March 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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