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OTTORINO RESPIGHI (1879-1936) Sinfonia Drammatica (1914)    Slovak PO/Daniel Nazareth rec Feb 1986, Bratislava NAXOS 8.550951 [ 58.23]

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There are three movements in this work - a symphony from Respighi. This is no neo-classical jolly, no pastoral reflection but a great gangling colossus of a work written in a mood racked with conflict and striving.

The work can loosely be grouped with Szymanowski's Concert Overture, Enesco's Symphony No. 1 and Scriabin's Symphonies 2 and 3. It is contemporaneous with the following symphonies: Langgaard 2; Miaskovsky 3 (whose ruined castle grandeur it partly shares); Rangstrom 1 (similar strenuous lyricism); Tournemire 5 and the desperate high-straining songs of Vermeulen 1 (with which again it has parallels).

The Respighi is launched with an Allegro energico (23.12) letting rip with rapturous Straussian climaxes crackling across the first five minutes. Though hardly glamorous the very natural sound-picture is well caught in the oboe song at 5.58. There are large helpings of Mahlerian declamation by the horns (try 7.54 onwards) and music that flows into moments from Pohjola's Daughter. Scriabin-like protestation, as in 10.42, and the hoarse calling of the brass section in full cry are also a hallmark of this work. This gradually winds down into a central Siegfried Idyll-like middle interlude. Long black Tchaikovskian (Pathetique) shadows are cast across the scenery at 18.03. At the conclusion a Delian march is translated into an extremely impressive Mahlerian fanfaring processional of satisfying gravitas and splendid sunset triumph.

The central andante sostenuto is the shortest movement at 17.06. It is largely of distanced plainchant emotion in a Debussian idiom. This rises to a sombre climax in which the brass call out in agony. A much more contained and calm mood settles like silvery dust over the rest of the movement though disturbing undercurrents keep rending the gentle blaze of Mahlerian light.

The finale is an Allegro Impetuoso (18.04) which, in this performance, might actually have benefited from a more buffeting dash but only by a hair or so's breadth. Howard Hanson was a Respighi pupil and Respighi's influence can be traced back through these pages as also may the influence of Respighi on Korngold or vice versa. Other parallel voices are clear: Wagner, Bruckner, Strauss and even Elgar 2 (10.55). The grand swing of the bells in doom-laden ruins echoes angrily through the closing moments of this symphony - a prelude (unwitting or otherwise) to the murderous conflict about to grip Europe for the next four years.

The strings, which are perhaps not as numerous as they might be, are romantically warm (III 3.20) but not as lush as those of the BBCPO. The brass and woodwind are excellent. The recording is good without being absolutely brilliant. It benefits from being played back at a high volume. The notes are just about adequate though very brief. More information about the symphony would have been welcome.

The later (1994) recording by the BBCPO/Edward Downes is on Chandos CHAN9213 runs for one hour and is in more sumptuous sound. That issue is of course at full price but this too, at least half the Chandos price, has its mead of voluptuous euphony.

A glorious rest from the usual helping of Roman tone poems. Not the most subtle of symphonies but one with its share of high pressure poetry. No-one who invests in this disc in curiosity is likely to be disappointed by the performance. The music has the very variegated emotional surge you might have expected from the title.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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