About this Recording
8.223347 - RESPIGHI: Aretusa / La Sensitiva / Il Tramonto

Ottorino Respighi (1879- 1936)

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Shelley Cantatas and Gabriele d'Annunzio Song Cycle


The settings of poems by Shelley and Gabriele d'Annunzio are Respighi's finest vocal compositions, using texts by his favourite poets. Il tramonto has enjoyed reasonable exposure, but the other two works of the Shelley trilogy have been largely neglected. Aretusa belongs to the composer's period of development in his native Bologna, while La sensitiva and Il tramonto are from his Roman period, shortly before the composition of Fontane di Roma in 1916. This is still not the period of Respighi's characteristic use of church modes and these works have as their precursors the envois sent from Rome by Debussy and the early cantatas of Ravel, or his teacher Martucci's La Canzone dei Ricordi of 1886. Martucci had taught Respighi during his last year at the Conservatory and his romantic-classical musical style exercised an enormous influence on his young pupil. Respighi was further inspired by the vocal artistry of a close friend, the mezzo-soprano Chiarina Fino Savio. Many of his earlier songs were written for this singer, a rôle later taken by the composer's wife Eisa, whose voice was similar in tessitura, if not as highly professional as Fino-Savio's.


Respighi's interest in the cantata for female voice covers a period of some 28 years, starting from an adaptation of Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna and continuing until his last completed work, a reconstruction of Marcello's Didone. His own original form of cantata, which, following Martucci, he called "poemetto lirico", may be considered a new pseudo-operatic form of symphonic poem. It retains, nevertheless, traditional recitatives, ariosi and instrumental interludes as structural elements. In addition to typical Respighian archaisms, the influence of Wagnerian chromaticism, French impressionism and Puccinian lyricism are amalgamated idiosyncratically and sensitively. Il tramonto is scored for strings only, while Aretusa and La sensitiva require a normal symphony orchestra, without trumpets and trombones, but with a harp and reduced percussion. La sensitiva uses in addition a cor anglais, timpani and a third flute.




Apparently composed during one week in the summer of 1910 and orchestrated early in 1911, Aretusa is a short but very demanding work. It was first performed at the Teatro Comuale in Bologna on 17th March 1911 under the direction of Guido Carlo Visconti di Modrone. A few months earlier Respighi's monumental opera Semirâma had been staged in the same theatre with considerable success.


Shelley's poem tells the story of the water-nymph Arethusa, who is pursued by the river-god Alpheus, but escapes with the help of Ocean, through the waters, to rise again in Sicily, their waters mingling. The work is a precursor of the Fontane di Roma, with the orchestral interlude in which Ocean shelters the fleeing Arethusa becoming the source of the climax of Fontana di Trevi. There is less of tragedy in Arethusa than in the other two Shelley settings, partly scherzo and partly dramatic ballad.


La sensitiva


La sensitiva was written in 1914 and 1915 and was first performed in Prague on 29th January 1922 by Eisa Respighi and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Vaclav Tálich. Shelley's poem, written a hundred years earlier, describes the life of a sensitive plant, mimosa, through the seasons of the year. She cannot show her feelings with brightly-coloured blossoms and when the owner of the garden dies, she suffers and finally dies.


At the heart of this work is an extremely beautiful and syncopated theme, at first appearing together with the vocal line and then becoming an ecstatic central orchestral interlude in G sharp minor, almost repeated, but in the key of E minor, in the finale. The earlier Ocean interlude in Aretusa is in comparison merely episodic and not as dramatically essential as the interlude in La sensitiva, where the orchestra has the final function of expressing what cannot be said in words. Respighi makes use of "lontano" effects with his third flute, behind the orchestra, a nightingale, a foretaste of the effect to be used in Pini di Roma, but with the help of the bird's song played on a gramophone recording. La sensitiva is economical in its use of thematic material and suggests in its evocation of nature the music of Frederick Delius.


Il tramonto


Music and words are perfectly matched in Respighi's setting of Shelley's poem The Sunset. The work was written in 1914 and given its first performance in May the following year in Rome, at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, with its dedicatee Chiarina Fino Savio as soloist. The poem, the text for Respighi's Liebestod, tells of the death of two lovers, the young man suddenly in youth, and the woman after year's of patient resignation to her sadness. The composer was deeply moved by the poem and decided to use in his musical setting a chamber ensemble, to provide a feeling of greater intimacy. The current string orchestra version, available from the publisher, is nothing more than the original string quartet version with a separate double-bass part. It is thought that Respighi approved of this orchestral version, but one is bound to wonder why he never revised the scoring, Schoenberg did with his Verklärte Nacht or Berg with his Lyrische Suite. The conductor of the version now recorded has made some changes in the scoring to suit a larger string ensemble, varying the texture.


The music of Il tramonto shows Respighi a turning-point in his career as a composer, writing with an intensity only equalled in his opera Lucrezia in 1936. The music here loses much of its formal aspect, with a highly emotive vocal part that makes instinctive use of the declamatory in its depth of feeling.


Quattro liriche dal Poema paradisaco di Gabriele d'Annunzio


Respighi was on the one hand fascinated by Shelley's delicate and androgynous world of the previous century and on the other attracted by the work of the contemporary Italian poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, whose style is in some respects similar, even if more decadent. He set the four poems of d'Annunzio for voice and piano during a summer holiday in Anacapri in 1920, to the poet's enthusiastic approval. The cycle reveals an unexpectedly oppressive, even sinister facet to the composer's character, with music that is mysterious and more enigmatic than morbid. The present orchestrated version is intended to make the work available to a wider audience, with strict respect for Respighi's style of orchestration, limited to strings, harp, piano, celesta and harpsichord.


D'Annunzio's poems move within astate of dreaming and a world of desolation and death. The first, with a metre of 11/8, is the story of a dream, the second a melancholy reverie, with elements of morbid shivering, the third, over a heart-beat ostinato, deals with horror and abandon and the fourth recalls a hopeless love. In this last song Respighi quotes an aria from Cesti's Orontea, while the musical texture of the first two is mainly impressionistic. La sera, with its accompanying ostinato, is as thrilling and sinister as Respighi's famous Nebbie. The vocal part, as in the cantatas, consists of ariosi and recitatives, in a style that proclaims him a master of Italian song.


The catalogue of Respighi's music includes five more d'Annunzio and three Shelley settings for voice and piano, the latter, as with the cantatas, in the excellent Italian version of Roberto Ascoli.


ARETHUSA (Aretusa)


[I]        ARETHUSA arose / From her couch of snows / In the Acroceraunian mountains,- / From cloud and from crag, / With many a jag, / Shepherding her bright fountains. / She leapt down the rocks, / With her rainbow locks / Streaming among the streams;- / Her steps paved with green / The downward ravine / Which slopes to the western gleams; / and gliding and springing / She went, ever singing, / In murmurs as soft as sleep; / The Earth seemed to love her, / And Heaven smiled above her, / As she lingered towards the deep.


[II]       Then Alpheus bold, / On his glacier cold, / With his trident the mountains strook; / And opened a chasm / In the rocks - with the spasm / All Erymanthus shook. / And the black south wind / It unsealed behind / The urns of the silent snow, / And earthquake and thunder / Did rend in sunder / The bars of the springs below. / And the beard and the hair / Of the River-god were / Seen through the torrent's sweep, / As he followed the light / Of the fleet nymph's flight / To the brink ofthe Dorian deep.


[III]      'Oh, save me! Oh, guide me! / And bid the deep hide me, / For he grasps me now by the hair!' / The loud Ocean heard, / To its blue depth stirred, / And divided at her prayer; / And under the water / The Earth's white daughter / Fled like a sunny beam; / Behind her descended / Her billows, unblended / With the brackish Dorian stream:- / Like a gloomy stain / On the emerald main / Alpheus rushed behind,- / As an eagle pursuing / A dove to its ruin / Down the streams of the cloudy wind.


[IV]      Under the bowers / Where the Ocean Powers / Sit on their pearled thrones; / Through the coral woods / Of the weltering floods, / Over heaps of unvalued stones; / Through the dim beams / Which amid the streams / Weave a network of coloured light; / And under the caves, / Where the shadowy waves / Are as green as the forest's night:- / Outspeeding the shark, / And the sword-fish dark, / Under the Ocean's foam, / And up through the rifts / Of the mountain clifts / They passed to their Dorian home.


[V]       And now from their fountains / In Enna's mountains, / Down one vale where the morning baks, / Like friends once parted / Grown single-hearted, / They ply their watery tasks.


At sunrise they leap / From their cradles steep / In the cave of the shelving hili; / At noontide they flow / Through the woods below / And the meadows of asphodel; / And at night they sleep / In the rocking deep / Beneath the Ortygian shore;- / Like spirits that lie / In the azure sky / When they love but live no more.




[I]        The Sensitive Plant in a garden grew, / And the young winds fed it with silver dew, / And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light, / And closed them beneath the kisses of Night.


And the Spring arose on the garden fair, / Like the spirit of Love feit everywhere; / And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast / Rose from the dreams ofits wintry rest.


But none ever trembled and panted with bliss / In the garden, the field, or the wilderness, / Like a doe in the noontide with love's sweet want, / As the companionless Sensitive Plant.


The snowdrop, and then the violet, / Arose from the ground with warm rain wet, / And their breath was mixed with fresh odour, sent / From the turf, like the voice and the instrument.


Then the pied wind-flowers and the tulip tall, / And narcissi, the fairest among them all, / Who gaze on their eyes in the stream's recess, / Till they die of their own dear loveliness;


And the rose like a nymph to the bath addressed, / Which unveiled the depth of her glowing breast, / Till, fold after fold, to the fainting air / The soul of her beauty and love lay bare:


And the jessamine faint, and the sweet tuberose, / The sweetest flower for scent that blows; / And all rare blossoms from every clime / Grew in that garden in perfect prime.


But the Sensitive Plant which could give small fruit / Of the love which it feit from the leaf to the root, / Received more than all, it love more than ever, / Where none wanted but it, would belong to the giver


For the Sensitive Plant has no bright flower; / Radiance and odour are not its dower; / It loves, even like Love, its deep heart is full, / It desires what it has not, the Beautiful!


And when evening descended from Heaven above, / And the Earth was all rest, and the air was all love, / And delight, though less bright, was far more deep / And the day's veil fell from the world of sleep,


Only overhead the sweet nightingale / Ever sang more sweet as the day might fail, / And snatches of its Elysian chant / Were mixed with the dreams of the Sensitive Plant.


The Sensitive Plant was the earliest / Up gathered into the bosom ofrest.


[II]       There was a Power in this sweet place, / An Eve in this Eden; a ruling Grace / Which to the flowers, did they waken or dream, / Was as God is to the Starry scheme.


Her step seemed to pity the grass it pressed; / You might hear by the heaving of her breast, / That the coming and going ofthe wind / Brought pleasure there and left passion behind.


And wherever her aëry footstep trod, / Her trailing hair from the grassy sod / Erased

its light vestige, with shadowy sweep, / Like a sunny storm o'er the dark green deep.


She sprinkling bright water from the stream / On those that were faint with the sunny beam; / And out of the cups of the heavy flowers / She emptied the rain of the thunder-showers.


This fairest creature from earliest Spring / Thus moved through the garden ministering / All the sweet season of Summertide, / And ere the first leaf looked brown-she died!


[III]      Three days the flowers of the garden fair, / Like stars when the moon is awakened, were,


And on the fourth, the Sensitive Plant / Feit the sound of the funeral chant, / And

the steps ofthe bearers, heavy and slow, / And the sobs ofthe moumers, deep and low;


The weary sound and the heavy breath, / And the silent motions ofpassing death, / And the smell, cold, oppressive, and dank, / Sent through the pores of the coffin-plank;


The dark grass, and the flowers among the grass, / Were bright with tears as the crowd did pass; / From their sighs the wind caught a mournful tone, / And sate in the pines, and gave groan for groan.


The garden, once fair, became cold and foul, / Like the corpse of her who had been its soul


Swift Summer into the Autumn flowed.


The rose-leaves, like flakes of crimson snow, / Paved the turf and the moss below. / The lilies were drooping, and white, and wan, / Like the head and the skin of a dying man.


The water-blooms under the rivulet / Fell from the stalks on which they were set; / And the eddies drove them here and there, / As the winds did those of the upper air.


Then the rain came down, and the broken stalks / Were bent and tangled across the walks; / And the leafless network of parasite bowers / Massed into ruin; and all sweet flowers.


The Sensitive Plant, like one forbid, / Wept, and the tears within each lid / Of its folded leaves, which together grew, / Were changed to ablight of frozen glue, / For Winter came: the wind was his whip: / One choppy finger was on his lip: / He came, fiercely driven, in his chariot-throng / By the tenfold blasts of the Arctic zone.


And northern whirlwind, wandering about / Like a wolf that had smelt a dead child out, Shook the boughs thus laden, and heavy, and stiff, And snapped them off with his rigid griff.


When Winter had gone and Spring came back / The Sensitive Plant was a leafless wreck


THE SUNSET (Il Tramonto)


There late was one within whose subtle being, / As light and wind within some delicate cloud / That fades amid the blue noon's buming sky, / Genius and death contended. None rnay know / The sweetness of the joy which made his breath / Fail, Iike the trances of the summer air, / When, with the Lady of his love, who then / First knew the unreserve of mingled being, / He walked along the pathway of a field / Which to the east a hoar wood shadowed o'er, / But to the west was open to the sky. / There now the sun had sunk, but lines of gold / Hung on the ashen clouds, and on the points / Of the far level grass and nodding flowers / And the old dandelion's hoary beard, / And, mingled with the shades of twilight, lay / On the brown massy woods-and in the east / The broad and buming moon lingeringly rose / Between the black trunks of the crowed trees, / While the faint stars were gathering overhead.- / 'Is it not strange, Isabel,' said the youth, / 'I never saw the sun? We will walk here / To-morrow; thou shalt look on it with me.'


That night the youth and lady mingled lay / In love and sleep-but when the moming came / The lady found her lover dead and cold, / Let none believe that God in mercy gave / That stroke. The lady died not, nor grew wild, / But year by year lived on-in truth I think / Her gentleness and patience and sas smiles, / And that she did not die, but lived to tend / Her aged father, were a kind of madness, / If madness 'tis to be unlike the world. / For but to see her were to read the tale / Woven by some subtlest bard, to make hard hearts / Dissolve away in wisdom-working grief;- / Her eyes were black and lustreless and wan: / Her eyelashes were worn away with tears, / Her lips and cheeks were like things dead-so pale; / Her hands were thin, and through their wandering veins / And weak articulations might be seen / Day's ruddy light. The tomb of thy dead self / Which one vexed ghost inhabits, night and day, / Is all, lost child, that now remains of thee!


'Inheritor of more than earth can give, / Passionless calm and silence unreproved, / Whether the dead find, oh, not sleep! But rest, / And are the uncomplaining things they seem, / Or live, or drop in the deep sea of Love; / Oh, that like thine, mine epitaph were-Peace!' / This was the only moan she ever made.


Four Songs from the Poema paradisiaco of Gabriele d'Annunzio


A Dream (Un sogno)


I do not hear my footsteps in the silent alley to which my dream leads me. The time is quite and shining; the sky pearl-like. Unmoving and without crying the cypress-trees by the graves reach up with their dark tops. They are very sad. This place is unknown to me and almost formless. A most ancient mystery pervades this silent alley I pass through, while my thoughts are lost. I do not hear my footsteps: like a shadow I am, and my pain is like a shadow. My whole life is like an uncertain, indistinct inexpressible shadow.


The Naiad (La Najade)


The shady forest is alive with softly trembling water, spreading in outward ripples, now veiling her mysteries, now shivering through her clear veins. On the wedding-bed Selene, the Moon, once found again the imprint of bodies, still intact and bound together by love's pleasures. But Selene and that silver ground is dead, and the love-beds remain abandoned. In the complete nocturnal peace, the water is silent, but for the sound of an urn, submerged by an invisible hand.


The Evening (La sera)


Stay here, I beg you. Do not arise. Do you need some light? No. Let this dream still go on. Please stay. Light, like a dagger, may wound us. This day has been much too long and already I think of his return with fear. Light is like a dagger. You too, you hate it? By day, your eyes are tired. It seems you can scarcely lift those grieving lids, and nothing is sadder than the eye-lashes' shadows on your cheeks, while your mouth smiles no more.


On an ancient air (Sopra un'aria antica)


Listen: our words, do they not rise from that ancient air? I have found you again now, dear friend. You see the sun again and talk to me. You said those words, do you not hear? But who was aware of them? Your tunes arise from a wooden hollow, loosed by the wind. "I read in your heart that you do not love me. You think it is the last time", you said. I can see a mouth grown sad. "Before you abandon me, your wish may be fulfilled that in your heart I will be missed. Do you not forgive me, if the temples you kiss have some white hairs?" I looked and saw the pale neck marked by age and said: "Hush, I do love you". Your beautiful eyes were full of tears under my kisses. "You deceive me", you said, and kissed my hands. "What does it matter? I know you deceive me; tomorrow you may love me while you are already dead". The canopy of the bed was deep and the bed itself dark and deep as a grave. The unveiled body looked almost impure. From the open balcony I saw a distant summer landscape with an unsteady river between burning, vermilion rocks. Perfumes of remote gardens, with sturdy women singing among their lascivious flowers, were carried over by the wind.


Faridah Subrata


Faridah Subrata was born in the Netherlands of an Indonesian father and an Austrian mother. She was educated in Switzerland, studying at the Zurich Conservatory under Rudolf Hartmann and Peter Rasky, and later joined the Zurich InternationalOpera Studio. Faridah Subrata began her professional career while still a student, achieving considerable success in Schwetzingen in a production of Scarlatti's II Trionfo dell'Onore, which was widely broadcast. In 1987 she won First Prize in the Verviers International Opera Competition and has appeared in major opera houses throughout Europe as well as on European television. A lyric mezzo-soprano, her repertoire ranges from the Baroque, in particular the alto solos in the Bach Passions and Masses, to Lieder, oratorio and stage roles that include Rossini's La Cenerentola, Cherubino and Orlovsky, as well as first performances of a number of contemporary works.


Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)


The Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929. The orchestra's first conductor was František Dyk and over the past sixty years it has worked under the direction of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors. The orchestra has made many recordings for the Naxos label ranging from the ballet music of Tchaikovsky to more modern works by composers such as Copland, Britten and Prokofiev. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian.




Swiss-born Adriano began his artistic activities in the domains of the theatre and the graphic arts. In music he is largely self-taught. When he was in his twenties, he was urged by conductors such as Joseph Keilberth and Ernest Ansermet, who recognized his gifts, to embrace a conducting career. Instead he became a composer of stage, film and chamber music and also a record producer for his own gramophone label, Adriano Records. In the late 1970s he established himself as a specialist on Ottorino Respighi, organizing a comprehensive exhibition at the 1979 Lucerne Music Festival and publishing a discography. For the past six years Adriano has worked as an Italian and French language coach, teacher and stage assistant at the Zürich Opera House and its International Opera Studio.


His numerous efforts to promote little known music include an old Italian translation of Telernann's opera Pimpinone, which was given its first performance in Italy in 1987. For a production of Galuppi's II filosofo di campagna at the Stuttgart Music Festival in 1988, he conceived a theatrical prologue in which he himself appeared as an actor.


Adriano is now a regular guest of the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), mainly contributing to a classic film music series for Marco Polo Records, in which it is planned to include recordings of more than a dozen scores by composers such as Honegger, Ibert, Bliss, Khatchaturian, Waxman and others. Adriano's Respighi commitment for this label will include important first recordings of youthful and later works.

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