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John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, June 2009

Respighi is of course mainly connected with his series of super-colorful widescreen panoramic tone poems inspired by Rome. Their brilliant colors and obvious appeal have totally overshadowed the composer’s many works for the stage, symphonic and chamber groups.  Only recently has some of Respighi’s other music found its way to recordings. Some of this has been due to the efforts of Swiss conductor-composer Adriano, who is an established specialist on Respighi. His many recording projects have been based on the idea that music history should be revised to be not just the story of  the so-called great composers, neatly classified into traditions and categories. He strives to bring neglected music such as these Respighi works to public attention.

Both the first two works on the Adriano CD are based on texts by Armenian poets. Respighi seems to have become interested in the Italian translations of a contemporary, Constant Zarian, and used them in his lyric poem for a quartet of soloists, chorus and orchestra, La Primavera. This was one of several of his vocal symphonic poems which have a place somewhat between the traditional cantata and opera, though avoiding the character of an oratorio. It’s seven episodes deal with the mysteries of Spring, the voices of the breezes, water and flowers, a young man’s longing, and enraptured maidens.  The four short songs of the second work are based on texts by both Zarian and another Armenian poet. He used archaic church modes to provide the exotic-religious atmosphere of the texts, and the mezzo soloist is accompanied by a chamber group.

The closing ballet on the first CD provided the greatest interest to me. It is a pastiche score not unlike Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and The Fairy’s Kiss, and pays tribute to a group of less well-known composers, including Grachaninov, Arensky, Anton Rubinstein and Vladimir Rebikov.  Respighi’s great skill in orchestration brings all the sources together for a delightful suite which runs 25 minutes.

Philip Greenfield
American Record Guide, May 2009

Respighi, for the most part, is a composer on the periphery. So here we are at the periphery of the periphery, because none of this is frontline Respighi. La Pentola Magica (The Magic Pot) is a 1919 ballet where the Italian saluted his Russian colleagues (Grechaninoff, Arensky, Anton Rubinstein, and a few others) in a 10-movement suite that runs 25 minutes. Respighi wrote the score for Diaghilev and didn’t cheat him. It’s a sparkler.

La Primavera (1919) is a flossy, sumptuously- scored 45-minute cantata based on themes of love and nature, Armenian style. The composer had latched onto the writings of Constant Zarian, who, at the time, was living in Istanbul and drawing off the exoticism of poetry from further east…In the cantata, the solo voices are terrific: attractive, strong, and emotionally connected to the sappy story they do their utmost to sell. (At least Naxos describes the seven scenes in the booklet.) The Liriche are inspired by Armenian poetry, but their subject matter is tinged with sadness. They too are handsomely sung. Aside from a few sections of the Pentola that could use more oomph, the orchestra plays with commendable brio.

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, May 2009

These may be unfamiliar works, but there will be no mistaking the composer of the opening of La primavera—it could fit seamlessly into The Fountains of Rome—nor the echoes of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le coq d’or in its fifth movement. The Russian’s influence is obvious throughout this work, with its bold colors and brash exuberance united by Respighi, with surprising success, to Gregorian ecclesiastical modes. A setting of Italian verse by flamboyant 20th-century Armenian poet Gostan Zarian, the texts are, judging from the synopsis provided, uncomfortably naive. However, those of us with no Italian need not be concerned, since no text or translation is provided. This recording—a re-release of a 1994 Marco Polo CD from a six-disc series of neglected Respighi—features Slovakian artists relatively unknown in the U.S. The one familiar name is Dvorský. This is not, however, the more famous Peter, but rather Miroslav, one of four Dvorský brothers who sing opera. All of the soloists are skillful, though one could occasionally wish for more abandon. Dvorský’s Young Man is pleasingly ardent, with nice thrust on the top. Baritone Richard Haan’s tendency to wobble detracts only a bit from his noble Praying One, Bass Vladimir Kubovčik is a sonorous Old Man, and soprano Jana Valásková creates the beautiful young Sirvard charmingly, if with a bit more maturity and edge to her tone than ideal.

Continuing the Armenian theme, Quattro lirichi—from the same Marco Polo release—is a setting of poems by Zorian and 12th-century theologian and saint, Nerses Shenorhali. Originally written for Respighi’s wife Elsa, it, like La primavera, achieves an archaic pastoral quality through use of church modes. Gregorian chant was Elsa’s academic specialty and she was instrumental in introducing the modes to Respighi’s compositional palette. Mezzo Denisa Šlepkovská has a luxuriant voice, but her performance of the songs, fine though it is, might have been enhanced by a bit more subtlety and shading. Adriano orchestrated Respighi’s piano accompaniment for a chamber orchestra approximation of an Armenian deste ensemble. Elsa Respighi approved, and it certainly works. La pentola magica, a 1991 marco polo release, is a ballet pastiche of works by lesser-known 19th-century Russian composers, with original material in the same style and an ethereal setting of an Armenian folk theme for boy soprano. Only the most hardened of detractors of Respighi’s “new old music” could fail to be won over by this beguiling work. As in its successor, La boutique fantasque, Respighi succeeds in retaining the character of the originals while unifying them in a clever and cohesive new work.

I hope that this Naxos re-release, the second from the series, signals the eventual release of the ballet and cantata discs, currently only available as CD-R reissues, alas without Adriano’s informative liner notes. Adriano, the Swiss conductor and Respighi expert who led all of the original series, invests these works with energy and beauty. The Bratislava-based ensemble performs well, though the winds are less distinguished than the strings. The choir is excellent. The sound on this release is slightly brighter and clearer than the Marco Polo issue, though neither issue has a solid bottom. Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic have recorded an excellent La pentola magica for Chandos (10081) coupled with La boutique fantasque. While better played than the Naxos, it remains a second choice for me, as Adriano and his orchestra realize more of the dreamy charm of the work. Especially at Naxos’s prices, admirers of Respighi’s more famous scores should not hesitate.

James Manheim, May 2009

Ottorino Respighi is a classic example of a composer known only for a few big hits, although his catalog runs to dozens of full-length works…But each has its pleasures, and the readings by the single-named Respighi specialist Adriano, with a group of little-known but terrific Slovak vocal soloists, are very strong. The opening La Primavera, a giant choral-orchestral cantata, has rarely been recorded before and has been unkindly treated even by Respighi’s adoring biographers. A setting of a rather cosmic Armenian dramatic poem about God bestowing the gift of spring upon a generic pagan society, it’s a late Romantic choral cantata of the sort that fell decisively out of fashion for many years. With an active piano part providing a kind of wash of sunlight, augmented by a large battery of other percussion, it’s a bit bombastic but certainly not dull. The highlight of the disc may be the central Quattro liriche su poeie populari armene, originally for voice and piano but composed for Respighi’s wife, Elsa, and arranged for chamber group with her approval. Gregorian chant and medieval modes stand in for Armenian vocal material in economical settings that are beautifully rendered by mezzo soprano Denisa Slepkovska. The finale La pentola magica is a colorful pastiche of music, for a now-lost ballet (even the story is lost), by Respighi and other composers… engineers provided sound with depth and clarity in what must have been, at least in the case of La Primavera, difficult conditions. Probably of most interest to Respighi fans or those interested in the international impact of Armenian culture, but an offbeat choice commended to anyone looking for an unusual vocal item or looking to stage a choral-orchestral extravaganza.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, April 2009

Prospective purchasers should be aware that this is not the Technicolor Respighi of the Fountains and Pines of Rome and Feste Romane, or the pastiche Respighi of La Boutique fantasque (Rossini), Ancient Airs and Dances, The Birds (both from Renaissance and Baroque composers), Concerto Gregoriano, Concerto in modo misolidio, or Trittico Botticelliano (Gregorian chant), though parts of it come close to the last-named, in that both La Primavera and Quattro liriche set words by Armenian poets and the liriche employ Armenian musical themes.

In fact, the listener is hardly likely to recognise those Armenian themes—I, for one, didn’t; I found the work somewhat ‘folksy’ and reminiscent of Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne. If you enjoy the Canteloube—of which, incidentally, there are very good Naxos recordings with Véronique Gens on 8.557491 and 8.570338—you should enjoy the Quattro liricheLa Primavera, too, is an attractive work, with some Technicolor moments reminiscent of Pines of Rome and film music in general; though it slightly outstays its welcome at almost 45 minutes, the final Inno di Primavera or Hymn of Spring, makes up for any small longueurs which may have preceded it…La pentola magica was designed as a pastiche ballet but it is more the case that Respighi here imitates some upper-second-league Russian composers (Arensky) than that he borrows from them. Though lacking the immediate attraction of La boutique fantasque, the music is attractive enough and the performance is more than adequate. The young treble Jakub Francisi makes a real impression with his brief ethereal appearance in the Canzone armene (track13)…Everything on this reissue is more than acceptably performed and recorded. The notes, by conductor Adriano, edited by Keith Anderson, are excellent. They include detailed summaries of the first two works, especially La Primavera but no texts are offered, here or online. This is presumably because of copyright problems, but it does detract from the listener’s enjoyment. Since the Marco Polo issue, the plot of La Pentola has been unearthed and is given in summary in Ian Lace’s review of the CPO version, but the Naxos notes still refer to it as lost.

William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, March 2009

The Magic Pot is one of several pastiche-ballets that Respighi wrote for Diaghilev, usually orchestrating already existing music by other composers. In this case there are ten numbers, one each by Gretchaninoff, Arensky, Pachulsky, Rubinstein and Rebikov. Five are by Respighi himself and they blend well with the Slavic numbers. The scenario for the ballet has been lost. While enjoyable I must say that this has never been one of my favorite pieces by Respighi. On the other hand I do find Adriano’s rendition a bit more exciting than that of Noseda on Chandos.

Far more interesting are the Four Songs on Armenian Popular Poetry. Three of the texts are by the writer Constant Zarian and the last by the hymn-writer Nerses Shenorhali. They were written for Madama Respighi to sing in recitals accompanied by the composer and indeed they recorded a couple of them. Adriano added an instrumental accompaniment with the permission of the composer’s wife…The first is sad, with a mixolydian mode underpinning things while the second is slightly Mahlerian. Io sono la Madre is quite despairing, again with a modal influence. The last is prayerful and demonstrates a sincerity one does not always find in Respighi. All of them sound true to their Armenian roots without in the least being artificial.

Even better is the “Lyric Poem” for soloists, chorus and orchestra, La Primavera (Spring). This is in seven more or less continuous sections, again to words by Zarian. Respighi wrote it while courting his future wife. It is suffused with both passion and original Armenian feeling; again, without artificiality. The work begins with an incantation to Spring by The Praying One (baritone), which has an orchestral prelude that outdoes even the “Roman” tone poems. The Praying One, accompanied by the other voices continues to summon nature in the second section, which has an excellent use of the male chorus. This is contrasted in the third section by the music of The Young Man, at first mysterious, then passionate as he remembers his feelings when beholding the maiden Sirvard. Perhaps the best section is the fourth in which the young and old men sing of their contrasting feelings when contemplating spring. The opening of the fifth section, for the young women, has some very interesting part-writing and leads into the music for Sirvard, with fascinating writing for the several keyboard instruments. The sixth section is the inevitable meeting of The Young Man and Sirvard, leading to a love-duet. The last section is a general “Hymn to Spring” that must be one of the composer’s more accomplished creations. In all, a work that should be among Respighi’s best known.

As mentioned above Adriano’s version of The Magic Pot is more exciting than the competition, although the recording is older. In the Quattro liriche Šlepovská is very good and the ensemble backs her up well, although the sound is slightly dead. In La Primavera Richard Haan really stands out. Dvorský is also good, but I found Valásková somewhat pallid. The sound for individual instruments is good, but sometimes the ensemble is not all it could be. However, this is the only recording available of this major work and that should be the primary consideration.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2008

As with many other composers, Respighi has suffered the fate of achieving so much popularity withhis symphonic pictures of Rome, that his vast output has been overshadowed. Yet he was also his own worst enemy, his magpie instincts to borrow styles from so many different sources never allowing him to give birth to a personal style. His ambitious cantata, La Primavera, could well have come from the operatic pen of Franz Schreker, its eclectic mix of the late Romantic era and the colourful orchestration he learned from Rimsky-Korsakov creating passages of sumptuous beauty. Compare that with the almost austere setting of a group of four Armenian songs, Quattro Liriche, that were inspired by church modes and set for solo mezzo and piano accompaniment. They were later orchestrated by the conductor of this disc, Adriano, for a chamber group of seven instruments. The ballet, La pentola magica (The magic pot), findsRespighi’s use of material by other composers verging on plagiarism, the work’s big moment, The Dance of the Tartar Archers lifted straight from Rubinstein’s opera, The Demon. Maybe in hindsight he decided that this level of borrowing had gone one stage too far, and withdrew the score during his lifetime. All three performances come from discs issued on the Marco Polo label in the 1990s, and had a worthy group of solo singers in the cantata, the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonic Chorus sounding very comfortable in some difficult music. The recording for La Primavera is rather congested, but elsewhere it is most acceptable.

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