RESPIGHI: Piano Concerto in A Minor / Toccata / Fantasia Slava (Emil Niznansky/ Ivan Tvrdik/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553207)
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Ottorino Respighi (1879 - 1936)
Piano Concerto in A Minor
Toccata for piano and orchestra
Fantasia Slava for piano and orchestra
Respighi is best known for his colourful pictures of Rome in the symphonicpoems, the Fontane di Roma, Pini di Roma and Feste Romane. Born inBologna in 1879, the son of a musician, he was taught the piano by his fatherand later entered the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, where his teachers includedFederico Sarti, and, for composition, Torchi and Martucci. An engagement as astring- player in St Petersburg in 1900 and 1901, and a return there in 1902-3,allowed him to embark on study with Rimsky-Korsakov, before his return toBologna, where he took his diploma in composition. For five years, from 1903 to1908, he was a member of the Quartetto Mugellini. He then spent some months inBerlin, where Nikisch conducted some of his transcriptions of earlier music,including Vitali's Chaconne and Monteverdi's Lamento di Arianna, tokensof his continuing interest in earlier periods of Italian music. He was also ableto take lessons from Max Broch. In 1913 he took a position as teacher ofcomposition at the Liceo di Santa Cecilia in Rome, later the Conservatorio, andin 1924 was appointed director of the same institution. In 1919 he married ElsaOlivieri Sangiacomo, his pupil and herself a singer and composer. In 1926 heresigned his position as director of the Conservatory and for the last ten yearsof his life devoted himself more fully to composition.
Respighi was certainly one of the most important Italian composers of histime and won for himself an international reputation in concert tours throughoutEurope and in America. The first of the Roman symphonic poems, the Fontane diRoma, was completed in 1916, with I Pini completed in 1924 and the Festeromane in 1928. His Piano Concerto in A minor is a relatively earlywork, completed in 1902, and it is therefore natural that other influencesshould be apparent, elements that suggest earlier musical practices as much ascontemporary, although it was some years before his interest in Gregorian chantfound direct expression in his Concerto gregoriano for violin andorchestra, completed in 1921, and his Concerto in modo misolidio forpiano and orchestra, completed four years later. The Piano Concerto openswith a grandiose flourish, before more lyrical material is introduced. Thepiano-writing is often florid, idiomatic and demanding, in music that isthoroughly romantic in character, moving to a calmer central section, itsserenity shattered by the outburst that marks the final section of the work, adramatic finale, that brings its own moments of repose and of bravura.
Respighi's Toccata for piano and orchestra was written in 1928, theyear of Feste romane, three years after the Concerto in modo misolidio.
There is an impressive opening that has inevitable echoes of the Baroque inits abruptly dotted rhythms, with the introduction of a less characteristicmelodic element, notably from a solo cello in dialogue with the piano, followedby material of a clearly modal nature. There is a passage of deeply feltmelancholy at the heart of the work, before the brilliant piano sequences thatintroduce the vigorous final section, with its cadenza and figuration suggestinga transmutation of Baroque sequential passage-work.
The Fantasia Slava for piano and orchestra was completed in 1903 andmight naturally be supposed to reflect something of Respighi's stay in StPetersburg and the brief period of study with Rimsky-Korsakov. The Fantasia openswith a typically Slav melody, before the entry of the solo piano. Dance elementsappear, in interplay between piano and orchestra, with more histrionic materialand passages of pianistic display, over which the spirit of Rachmaninovsometimes hovers.
Konstantin Scherbakov was born in 1963 in Barnaul, Siberia, where he receivedhis first piano instruction. In 1978 he began study with Irina Naumova at theGnesin School in Moscow and from 1981 to 1986 was a pupil of Lev Naumov at theTchaikovsky Conservatory. He has won prizes at the Montreal InternationalCompetition, the Busoni Piano Competition in Bolzano and in 1983 won first prizeat the Moscow Rachmaninov Competition. Other awards include second prize in 1991at the Concours Geza Anda in Zurich and Geza Anda Television Prize for hisinterpretation of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. In the same year he wonsecond prize at the International Competition Premio Valentino Bucchi in Rome, acompetition dedicated to music of the twentieth century. Konstantin Scherbakovhas given concerts in over a hundred cities in Russia and also has regularengagements in France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Hisrecitals in Italy have included a cycle of Prokofiev piano sonatas at a festivaldevoted to the work of that composer and a four recital cycle of piano music byRachmaninov. He has recorded extensively at home and abroad and in addition tohis concert activities is a member of the teaching staff of Moscow Conservatory,where he is an assistant to Lev Naumov.
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonicensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt andOskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenard wasappointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief, succeededrecently by Robert Stankovsky. The orchestra has given successful concerts bothat home and abroad, in Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy,Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recordedworks by Glazunov, Gli?¿re, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers andfilm music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian as well as several volumesof the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos recordings includesymphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by Berlioz andSaint-Sa?½ns.
The British-born Howard Griffiths studied music at the Royal College of Musicin London and was awarded a scholarship by the British Council to studyconducting with George Hurst. He continued these studies withErichSchmid inZurich and Leon Barzin in Paris. ln 1981 he settled in Switzerland where he hasconducted the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, the Basie Radio Symphony Orchestra andthe Lucerne and Winterthur SymphonyOrchestras. Other engagements have broughtconcerts with prominent orchestras throughout Europe, with broadcasts andrecordings, and notably in Turkey, where appearance at the 1991
Ankara Festival with the Northern Sinfonia has led to a series of importantrecordings. Howard Griffiths is director of the Strings of Zurich and isartistic director of the Allensbach Music Festival in Germany. ln 1994 he wasappointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and hasrecently accepted a similar appointment with the Oxford Orchestra da Camera.