Classical Reissue Reviews

RESPIGHI: Quartetto Dorico; Il Tramonto; Lauda per la Nativita del Signore – Sena Jurinac, mezzo-soprano/ Barylli String Q./ Liliana Rossi and Lidia Marimpietri, sopranos/ Tomaso Frascati, tenor/ Chorus and Orch. dell’Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Nino Antonellini (Lauda) – IDIS

The instrumental and devotional side of Ottorino Respighi, 1924-1930, finds colorful and striking realization in these performances, 1960-1961.

Published on March 7, 2013

RESPIGHI: Quartetto Dorico; Il Tramonto; Lauda per la Nativita del Signore – Sena Jurinac, mezzo-soprano/ Barylli String Q./ Liliana Rossi and Lidia Marimpietri, sopranos/ Tomaso Frascati, tenor/ Chorus and Orch. dell’Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Nino Antonellini (Lauda) – IDIS

RESPIGHI: Quartetto Dorico; Il Tramonto; Lauda per la Nativita del Signore – Sena Jurinac, mezzo-soprano/ Barylli String Quartet/ Liliana Rossi and Lidia Marimpietri, sopranos/ Tomaso Frascati, tenor/ Chorus and Orch. dell’Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Nino Antonellini (Lauda) – IDIS 6649, 64:12 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Respighi and his wife devoted considerable time to Gregorian Chant, and one of the fruits of his intense studies, the Quartetto Dorico (1924),  presents us a one-movement work that subdivides into the traditional four movements, concluding with a “learned” exercise in passacaglia. Respighi’s neo-Classical impulse stood in dramatic contrast to the Roman Trilogy of the period, splashy and bombastic orchestral works that typically “define” his style. The highly unified piece exploits the D Major scale utilizing the white keys, a sound that dominates the opening phrase and last cadence. Often, the grand sonorities and decided Church modalities of the piece assume an orchestral sheen and volume, and we can easily imagine this work set for full string ensemble. The Barylli String Quartet – comprised by members of the Vienna Philharmonic – performs this alternately plaintive and sensuous work in 1960, when the principal cellist became Emanuel Brabec, the teacher of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The Elegiaco section will delight those auditors who relish a controlled intimacy from a composer whose colors had formerly only appeared garish and flamboyant.

The setting for Percy Shelley’s 1822 (pub. posthumously, 1824) poem “The Sunset” (Il Tramonto) appeared in 1918, when Respighi was thirty-nine-years old. Typical of the Romantic period, the poem deals with love and death. The woman (Isabel), outlives her lover and so suffers in a spiritual wasteland, to age and pray only for release. Respighi came to know Shelley’s poem through a translation by R. Ascoli. Respighi entitles his treatment poemetto lirico, restraining his dynamic to a mezzo-forte and ending in a ppp that segues to a finale (postlude) marked dolcissimo. Austrian soprano Sena Jurinac (1921-2011) sings almost continuously—but for selected instrumental interludes—after the brief, cello-dominated introduction, and the subsequent interplay between her plaintive, melancholy narrative and the low strings makes us wonder if this piece constitutes Respighi’s “answer” to Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. Respighi often “paints” the text, shading words like “ma linee d’oro” with a haloed effect. Instrumental sighs accompany the thought that the bereft lady did not die, but lingered on and on (“anno per anno vissi ancora”). Falling chords and a thud mark “La nuda tomba” that houses the ghost of the vexed, lost self of the woman. A mood of pensive resignation concludes this striking, haunted, and emotionally repressed narrative, in which the word “Pace” (Peace) lingers as “the only moan she ever made.”

Respighi composed his Laud to the Nativity in 1930, a cantata for three vocal soloists, mixed chorus, and chamber ensemble constituted by woodwinds and piano four-hands. The hymn of praise involves the birth of Jesus, and the three characters – an Angel (coloratura soprano), the Virgin Mary (mezzo-soprano), and a shepherd (tenor) – accompany a chorus of angels and shepherds at the immortal manger. The lyrical style, mostly bucolic and tinted by Medieval harmony and modal progressions, moves through variants of the basic 6/8 meter, with significant passages for bassoons, flute, and English horn.  In this studio recording from 1961, conductor Nino Antonellini maintains an elevated tension throughout, especially in those a cappella moments that seem suspended in time. Respighi and his musicologist wife Elsa well knew the Medieval liturgical style and had immersed themselves in Gregorian chant. The Lauda reflects the composer’s innate piety with an especial fervor that seems a cross between the Berlioz L’Enfance du Christ and Renaissance madrigal.

—Gary Lemco




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