Piano Quintet in F minor
String Quartet in D minor
Six Pieces for violin and piano
[Marcia Crayford & Ruth Ehrlich (violins), Martin Outram (viola), Judith Herbert (cello), Diana Ambache (piano)]
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: November 2001
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 9962
There’s rather more to Ottorino Respighi than his Technicolor orchestral ’Roman Trilogy’ and the arrangements that are Ancient Airs and Dances, as this collection testifies.
If one judges a composer’s worth by being able to name him on the strength of a few bars of an unfamiliar work, then Respighi is struggling in the league table. Another way is to enjoy a worthwhile piece and not castigate.
The Piano Quintet is heavily in debt to Brahms – the thickness of the piano writing, the density of the strings; there’s even an allusion to Brahms’s C minor Piano Trio, Op.101. Like that work, Respighi’s opus is concentrated. The powerful first movement comes off best; the short two-minute ’Andantino’ that follows is more Italianate in its lyricism. The finale is perhaps the most pleasurable movement even though it seems not to belong to its predecessors – somewhat French in its gentle scurrying, I thought of dear old Saint-Saens.
If this music lacks distinctiveness, it is expertly written – Respighi was a fine violinist, violist and pianist; the Quintet is also early, written in 1902 when Respighi was in his early ’twenties. The String Quartet is from 1909 – this is its first recording – and is rather more ambitious, not only in scale but personality. Its four movements play here for 35 minutes. Admirers of Elgar’s Quartet will want to hear it; and while a German influence remains discernible, this time there’s a greater expressive freedom that suggests Schumann. Whereas the Quintet sounds a student piece, the Quartet is altogether more personal and assured. A vein of melancholy threads through the first movement; it’s really quite lovely. This infinite sadness continues into the slow movement, dark chords, introspection and touching lyricism. The light-as-thistledown scherzo offers contrast albeit not without some emotional agitation. The resolute finale with plenty of bravura opportunities for the players – very well taken here – and unexpected rhythmic diversions crown music well worth getting to know. Surprising that this is its first recording; it couldn’t have a better ’birth’ than this.
The Six Pieces (1901-05) – Crayford and Ambache – include a charming ’Berceuse’ and somewhat poignant ’Melodia’, a Kreisler-like ’Valse caressante’ that is pure indulgence and a Baroque-adorned ’Aria’.
Early, uncharacteristic Respighi maybe; this is a CD well worth seeking out for the String Quartet alone. Excellent, sympathetic performances, beautifully recorded.