Respighi Chamber Music on Chandos

0 of 5 stars

Piano Quintet in F minor
String Quartet in D minor
Six Pieces for violin and piano

The Ambache
[Marcia Crayford & Ruth Ehrlich (violins), Martin Outram (viola), Judith Herbert (cello), Diana Ambache (piano)]

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: November 2001

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.

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