RESPIGHI: Piano Music (Emil Niznansky/ Konstantin Scherbakov) (Naxos: 8.553704)
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Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) Piano Music
Ottorino Respighi was born in Bologna in 1879 and studied the violin andviola at the Liceo Musicale there from 1891 with Federico Sarti. At the sametime he took lessons in composition, at first from the musicologist Luigi Torchi,who had returned to Bologna from the Liceo Rossini in Pesaro in the same year,and later from the composer Giuseppe Martucci, who was director of the Liceo inBologna until 1902. In 1899 Respighi completed his studies and the followingyear went to St Petersburg as principal viola-player at the Imperial opera. InRussia, where he spent the seasons of 1901-1902 and 1903-1904, he took lessonsin composition and orchestration from Rimsky-Korsakov.
During the first decade of the new century Respighi won a reputation as aperformer, while pursuing his growing interest in earlier music and incomposition. In Berlin in 1908 and 1909 he attended lectures by Max Bruch, butto relatively little effect. The influence of Rimsky-Korsakov, however, remainedwith him, guiding his bold use of orchestral colour in the music he wrote. Theseyears brought a series of compositions. In 1902 a piano concerto of his wasperformed in Bologna and his Notturno of 1905 was played in New Yorkunder Rodolfo Ferrari. In the same year his opera R?¿ Enzo was staged inBologna, to be followed five years later by Semirama, these operasproving successful enough to bring about his appointment in 1913 as a teacher ofcomposition at the Liceo Santa Cecilia in Rome
In 1919 Respighi married the singer Elsa Olivieri-Sangiacomo and in 1924 hebecame director of the Santa Cecilia, resigning two years later to devotehimself to composition, although he continued to teach and to perform inconcerts and recitals as a conductor and as an accompanist to his wife. He diedin 1936 at the house he had named after one of his most famous works, I Pini,referring to the symphonic poems Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome), one ofthree effective and now familiar works of his associated with aspects of thecity, Feste Romane (Roman Festivals) and Fontane di Roma (Fountainsof Rome).
In 1917 Respighi published his first set of arrangements of ancient dancesand airs, the Antiche arie e danze per liuto, orchestral versions ofearlier Italian lute music, transcribed from tablature. He made furtherarrangements from the same source for piano. As in the arrangement of Rossinianafor Dyagilev's La boutique fautasque, he remains generally faithful tothe original harmonies, avoiding the more radical procedures used by Stravinskyin Pulcinella. The keyboard-writing, however, is designed for the modernpiano, using with discretion the fuller possibilities of the instrument Thetranscriptions start with Balletto detto Il Conte Orlando, by SimoneMolinaro, who spent his career in his native Genoa. Molinaro's first book ofmusic for lute, in tablature, was published in Venice in 1599. The dance, in Dmajor, frames a contrasting minor section. It is followed by a Villanella, thework of an anonymous composer of the late sixteenth century, transcribed withcontrasted tone-colours. The Gagliarda is taken from the work of VincenzoGalilei, father of the scientist Galileo and a scholar who led the way inItalian music to dramatic monody in a search to revive the ancient Greek unionof music and poetry. The dance includes a central episode over a repeated bass.
The Italiana is from an anonymous source of later in the same century, agentle dance, lightly accompanied. The fifth piece is an anonymous Siciliana,to which a running accompaniment is added, assuming greater power when thisturns into accompanying octaves and the embellishment of rapid scales is added.
The Passacaglia, with its repeated pattern, is transcribed from a work of1692 by Conte Ludovico Roncalli, who published in that year in Bergamo his Capricciarmonici sopra la chitarra spagnola (Harmonic Caprices for the SpanishGuitar). These six pieces were published by Ricordi in 1919 To these are added atranscription of the Campanae Parisienses (Les cloches de Paris/The Bells ofParis), attributed to Marin Mersenne and drawn by the late nineteenthcentury musicologist Oscar Chilesotti from Jean-Baptiste Besard's Thesaurusharmonicus, novus partus of 1617. Besard's compilations are of particularinterest for their inclusion, in French lute tablature, of a quantity of lutemusic by contemporary composers, Italian, French and English. There follows a Bergamasca,a dance, with its repeated harmonic and rhythmic pattern, by BernardoGianoncelli, known as il Bernardello and dated to 1650.
Respighi's Valse Caressante is in the popular salon style that itstitle suggests, presenting very characteristic contrasting thematic material ina work that is finely crafted, however light its content. It is followed by his Canone,one of a group of pieces published in 1936, in a lyrical interpretation ofthe technical device suggested in its title. Notturno reflects theinfluence of Debussy in its reflection of the serene beauty of the night,leading, in its central section, to a climax of grandiose arpeggios and spreadchords, before the return of the opening mood of tranquillity. A Minuet to follows,a neo- classical interpretation of the traditional dance-form, with an addedingredient of excited agitation in its trio section. Respighi's Studio makes aparticularly French use of more elaborate piano textures. It is here followed byhis Intermezzo-Serenata, a gently mellifluous piece, with a singingmelody emerging through an arpeggio accompaniment. This is drawn from Respighi'sfirst opera, R?¿ Enzo.
The Sonata in F minor, published posthumously fifty years afterRespighi's death, is almost operatic in style, at least in its melodic content.
The exposition of the first movement offers two contrasting subjects, in thetonic key and, with a triplet accompaniment, in the key of D flat major. Thereis a central development of this material, which then returns in the customaryrecapitulation. The slow movement, very properly, moves to the related key of Aflat major, with a singing melody accompanied by the triplet rhythms of an innerpart. New keys are explored in a movement that always retains the singingquality of its melodies The Sonata ends with an Allegretto in Bflat minor, a movement that introduces an element of excited agitation in itsfirst thematic material, contrasted with a more lyrical theme.
The Tre Preludi sopra melodie gregoriane (Three Preludes on GregorianMelodies) are dated 1921, but were apparently written two years earlier,completed on the island of Capri during the summer of 1919. They reflectRespighi's new interest in Gregorian chant, an enthusiasm aroused by his formerstudent, now his wife, Elsa Olivieri-Sangiacomo, an interest that brought, in1921, the Concerto Gregoriano for violin and four years later the Concertoin modo misolidio for piano and orchestra. The three Gregorian preludes in1925 became the first three movements of the orchestral Vetrate di chiesa (ChurchWindows). The Gregorian melodies are used with great freedom, although they formthe melodic, modal basis of the three pieces. The first moves from an openingPhrygian mode, exploring different material in its central section, whilemaintaining the same general mood of meditation. The stormy second preludeallows the Gregorian melody at first to bass octaves, its relatively sinisteropening section followed by a more lyrical central passage. The return of theopening leads t