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CLASSICAL  December 2008

CLASSICAL December 2008

Subject:

Respighi, Scarlatti, Tommasini

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 10 Dec 2008 12:56:59 -0800

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text/plain

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Ottorino Respighi
Domenico Scarlatti-Vincenzo Tommasini
Suites and Ballets

*  Respighi:
      - The Birds (Gli uccelli)
      - Church Windows (Vetrate di chiesa)
*  Scarlatti-Tommasini: The Good-Humored Ladies*

Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
*Cleveland Orchestra/Louis Lane
Sony SBK60311 Total time: 63:47
Available from www.arkivmusic.com

Summary for the Busy Executive: Italian good humor.

Ottorino Respighi, with his Roman trilogy (Pines of Rome, Fountains of
Rome, and Roman Festivals) is probably the most popular modern Italian
composer after Puccini.  He studied both in Italy and in Russia, the
last with Rimsky-Korsakov, who helped him refine his orchestration.

Respighi's music falls into four categories.  The earliest resembles the
music of other Italian composers of his time, or slightly before, like
Martucci, who had taught Respighi composition in his senior year at the
conservatory.  He becomes musically influenced mainly by Debussy, but
with a touch of Richard Strauss as well.  However, the intellectual
currents in Italy move his music in significant new directions.  Italian
music (and art in general) had entered a crisis phase as early as the
retirement of Verdi.  Italian composers, instead of writing naturally,
began to ask what it meant to create specifically Italian art.  Italianite
- "Italianness" - became a conscious goal for composers with significant
stylistic differences, from writers of verismo opera to the few followers
of Stravinsky.  Respighi began to explore the Italian musical past in
his own way, going through a period influenced by Renaissance lute and
keyboard works.  He also feels the influence of Gregorian chant, and
this results in yet another, extremely rich creative strand.

The Birds (1928) continues the approach of the Ancient Airs and Dances
for the Lute, begun in 1917.  In contrast to the Roman trilogy of the
Teens and Twenties, Respighi has pared his orchestra down.  Individual
colors dominate, rather than tonal masses.  This results in textures of
gorgeous delicacy, elvish dances, far more memorable and moving than
most orchestral wallows.  Church Windows, from 1926, is an elaboration
of the Three Preludes on Gregorian Melodies for piano (1921).  Respighi's
impetus here is primarily pictorial, and this results in a musically-diffuse
work compared to the preludes.  However, the sound is so gorgeous, I'd
feel like an ingrate if I complained.

Vincenzo Tommasini (1878-1950), a Respighi contemporary, fell under the
spell of Debussy and wrote one of the first important articles (1907)
on that composer.  He's not nearly as well-known as Respighi, of course,
and indeed only one work keeps his name alive: the score for the Diaghilev
ballet The Good-Humored Ladies, orchestrations of Domenico Scarlatti
keyboard works.  This scored a huge success and helped pave the way for
a host of similar ballets, including Stravinsky's Pulcinella.  Tommasini,
reclusive by nature and unencumbered by the need to make money, essentially
fled his fame, failing to market his music, although he continued to
compose.  Based on this ballet, I'd like to hear more.  The orchestration
may not have Respighi's poetic flair, but it certainly keeps the pot
bubbling.  On the whole, the score lives up to its title.

Eugene Ormandy played this kind of stuff with genius.  He could magically
transform fluff to gold, and he certainly does so here.  The Philadelphia
shines in this music.  Indeed, Ormandy and Dorati are probably my two
favorite Respighi conductors.  Ormandy's Birds to me has reached the
status of a classic recording.  Louis Lane, on the other hand, has to a
large extent been hidden in the large shadow of George Szell, but he's
an interesting conductor in his own right.  In the days when he was
recording for Columbia/Epic, I used to greet the appearance of a new
Louis Lane LP with pleasurable anticipation.  The repertoire always got
my attention, and the performances both moved and delighted me.  I've
known this Tommasini recording for years and rejoice that it's returned
to the catalogue.  As far as I'm concerned, three enchanting readings.

This disc belongs to the series of reissues from ArkivMusic.  The
company has licensed recordings, many of them personal grails for
collectors, from major labels, both active and defunct, and produces
discs on demand.  Presently, they have slightly under 6,000 items in
their catalogue.  Each CD comes with original artwork, but not necessarily
liner notes.  My copy had none, although I've read that you can order
the notes at additional cost.  You can get them through www.arkivmusic.com.
The prices are generally mid-range, but if you can find a copy cheaper,
either second-hand or through places like Berkshire Record Outlet, don't
let me stop you.

Steve Schwartz

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