RESPIGHI: Symphonic Poems (Brian Culverhouse/ Enrique Batiz/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550539)
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Feste Romane (Roman Festivals)
L'Ottobrata (October Harvest Festival)
La Befana (Epiphany)
Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome)
La fontana di Valle Giulia all'alba (The Fountain of Valle Giulia at Dawn)
La fontana dei Tritone al mattino (The Triton Fountain at Morn)
La fontana di Trevi al meriggio (The Trevi Fountain at Mid-day)
La fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto (The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset)
Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome)
I pini di Villa Borghese (The Pines of the Villa Borghese)
Pini presso una catacomba (Pines near a Catacomb)
I pini dei Gianiculo (The Pines of the Janiculum)
I pini della Via Appia (The Pines of the Appian Way)
Ottorino Respighi was born in Bologna in 1879 and studied the violin and viola at the Liceo Musicale there from 1891 with Federico Sarti. At the same time 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 until 1902. In 1899 he completed his studies and the following year went to St. Petersburg as principal viola-player at the Imperial opera. In Russia, where he spent the seasons of 1901-1902 and 1903-1904, he took lessons in composition and orchestration from Rimsky-Korsakov. During the first decade of the century Respighi won a reputation as a performer, while pursuing his growing interest in earlier music and in composition. In Berlin in 1908 and 1909 he attended lectures by Max Bruch, but to relatively little effect. The influence of Rimsky-Korsakov, however, remained with him, guiding his bold use of orchestral colour in the music he wrote. These years brought a series of compositions. In 1902 a piano concerto of his was performed in Bologna and his Notturno of 1905 was played in New York under Rodolfo Ferrari. In the same year his opera Ré Enzo was staged in Bologna, to be followed five years later by Semirama, these operas proving successful enough to bring about his appointment in 1913 as a teacher of composition at the Liceo Santa Cecilia in Rome.
In 1919 Respighi married a singer, Eisa Olivieri-Sangiacomo and in 1924 he became director of the Santa Cecilia, resigning two years later to devote himself to composition, although he continued to teach and to perform in concerts and recitals as a conductor and as accompanist to his wife. He died in 1936 at the house he had named after one of his most famous works, I Pini.
Respighi's international reputation, which still exceeds that of any other Italian composer of his generation, depends very largely on the symphonic poems that otter evocative and pictorial representations of Rome. Fontane di Roma, four vivid pictures of the fountains of the city, was completed in 1916. Pini di Roma, an evocation of Roman scenes associated with the pines of the city and its surrounding countryside, followed in 1924, and this was succeeded in 1929 by Feste Romane, a work coloured by a certain contemporary political optimism.
In 1918 Respighi provided the Russian ballet impresario Dyagilev with a score derived from Rossini, La boutique fantasque, a work that has continued in popular ballet repertoire since its first performance in London in 1919. A later ballet, Belkis, Regina di Saba, was written in 1931 and staged at La Scala, Milan, the following year. There were other operas, but these failed to capture the public imagination as the operas written before the war had done. His last opera, Lucrezia, left incomplete, was edited and staged posthumously at La Scala in 1937.
Bread and circuses were said, by an ancient Roman satirist, to be the sole interest of the Roman people. The ritual of the Circus and of the gladiatorial contest in ancient Rome is represented in the first movement of Feste Romane, in music that is sometimes bold, sometimes sinister, as those who are about to die salute the Emperor, the first Consul. Storm-clouds brood over the arena on a Roman holiday: the great iron doors are unbolted and the sound of the hymns of the Christian martyrs mingles with the noise of the beasts against which they are pitted. Here, as elsewhere, are reflections of Respighi's interest in Gregorian chant and its ancient modes. Jubilee represents the fifty year festival of later Roman tradition. Pilgrims, who will earn a plenary indulgence by their pilgrimage to Rome, approach the Holy City, catching a first glimpse of it from Mount Mario: there is a hymn of praise and the church bells ring out. L'Ottobrata, with its popular song and emotive French horn solo, celebrates the harvest and the hunt, with the tinkling of bells, love-songs and a final serenade. It is followed by La Befana, the eve of the Epiphany, in the Piazza Navona, where trumpets sound and there is the clamour of popular songs and dances.
The first movement of Pini di Roma, the Pines of the Villa Borghese, shows children playing by the pine-trees at the great Villa Borghese, monument to the patronage of the Borghese family, who dominated the city in the early seventeenth century. It is a sunny morning and the children sing nursery rhymes and play soldiers. Pines near a Catacomb conjures up the picture of a solitary chapel in the deserted Roman Campagna, open land, with a few pine-trees silhouetted against the sky. A hymn is heard, the sound rising and sinking again into some sort of catacomb, the subterranean cavern in which the dead are immured. The Pines of the Janiculum is a night-piece. The full moon shines on the pines that grow on the hill of the Temple of Janus, the double-faced god of doors and gates, and of the new year. A nightingale is heard, the composer demanding a recording of the real bird, where this is possible, rather than the artificial birdsong of Vivaldi or of Beethoven. The Pines of the Appian Way is a representation of dawn on the great military road leading into Rome. Respighi recalls the past glories of the Roman Republic. The legions approach to the sound of trumpets, where possible in the form of ancient Roman buccine, instruments best imitated by the modern flügelhorn, and the Consul, elected leader of the Republic, advances, as the sun rises, mounting in triumph to the Capitol.
The Fountains of Rome, a work that met a hostile reception at its first performance, owed its later success to a performance under Toscanini in Milan in 1918. The four movements offer pictures of the famous fountains of the Eternal City at different periods of the day and night. The first shows the Valle Giulia fountain at daybreak, a pastoral landscape, in which herds of cat1le pass and disappear into the morning mist. In the second Naiads and Tritons dance in the morning light, figures of the great Bernini fountain commissioned by Cardinal Borghese, the sea-gods making use of their characteristic instrument, the conch-shell, here represented by the French horns in textures that owe much to Rimsky-Korsakov. At noon the ornate Trevi fountain is displayed, a solemn theme followed by the trumpets that announce the triumph of the sea-god Neptune, in his chariot drawn by sea-horses. As the sun sets, the music depicts the fountain of the Villa Medici, a scene of nostalgic melancholy: bells toll and birds sing, while the leaves rustle and all sounds dwindle into the tranquillity of night.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The Royal Philha