Ottorino Respighi

0 of 5 stars

Preludio, corale e fuga
Rachmaninov, orch. Respighi
Five Études-tableaux

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Gianandrea Noseda

Recorded on 15 & 16 September 2005 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester

Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler

Reviewed: January 2007
Duration: 73 minutes

This is a disc of two halves – a pair of early original works by Respighi, coupled with two later orchestral transcriptions of piano music by other composers.

Burlesca, from 1906, is a nocturnal scherzo that perhaps owes something to ‘Fêtes’ from Debussy’s Nocturnes. It is deftly scored, and Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic keep it spinning along in a buoyantly energetic way.

While Burlesca occasionally suggests the later Respighi of the three Roman tone-poems – in particular, his trademark use of harp and celesta – you’d be hard-pressed to identify the composer of Prelude, Chorale and Fugue at a blind tasting. Dating from five years earlier, it was Respighi’s graduation piece from the Liceo Musicale, Bologna, composed during the first of his two visits to Russia, when he studied briefly with Rimsky-Korsakov. It is, as you might expect from the title, a more serious piece, portentous, even, in places. Conductor and orchestra make the best possible case for it, investing the start of the Fugue with nimble, incisively rhythmic playing, with some engaging woodwind solos later on.

Rossiniana, of 1925, finds Respighi back in the world of his ballet La Boutique fantasque (recorded by Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos CHAN 10081), and premiered six years earlier. Like the ballet, Rossiniana is orchestration of some of the many piano pieces Rossini composed in his later years. This performance characterises the individual movements superbly, finding a dark eloquence in the second, ‘Lamento’, and an irresistible carnival atmosphere in the final ‘Tarantella’.

Respighi orchestrated five of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-tableaux, with the composer’s active encouragement, in 1930, and the results are compelling. From the quiet brooding of the first, through the fairground jollity of the second (with its echoes, in Respighi’s scoring, of the second and fourth movements of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony) to the fairy-tale menace of number 4 (based, so Rachmaninov told Respighi, on the story of Little Red Riding-Hood), Respighi enters so thoroughly into Rachmaninov’s expressive world that it is hard to imagine the Russian composer himself doing it better. The set gets deeply committed performances, recorded, like the other works on the disc, in impressively warm but clear sound.

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