Respighi’s Quartetto Dorico dates from a prolific period
when works like Pines of Rome were bringing the composer
international fame. Indeed, Quartetto Dorico met with
acclaim when it was performed by a quartet including Respighi
himself in New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1925.
Respighi’s heightened sense of colour is strongly felt in the
Dorico. The work seems to leap out of the usual
sonic confines of a string quartet, to such an extent that one
can easily imagine a string orchestra playing. As the nomenclature
‘Doric’ implies, the main theme is based on the old church mode,
and this unifies its constantly evolving web through a continuous
22-minute span. It is played through as a single movement but
this can be divided into four sections: Energico; Allegro
moderato; Elegiaco (adagio) and Moderato energico
(Passacaglia). The Quartetto della Scala bring passion and attack
to its elated passages and serene beauty to others of quiet
supplication. The ensemble playing is finely attuned and articulated.
The Sonata for Violin and Piano is a lyrical creation in the
Late Romantic tradition, the first movement passionate, sometimes
turbulently so, and sweetly romantic. The opening Moderato
has Respighi writing in the tradition of the late 19th
century Russian Romantics rather than being inspired by ancient
modes and the early Italian masters. The lovely Andante
caresses the ear, the piano’s bell-like figurations counterpointing
the violin’s long-breathed song of yearning. Respighi, in the
final movement, nods back to former times, in so far as it utilises
the old Italian form of a Passacaglia (ground bass and variations).
My colleague Charles Niven, Treasurer of the now defunct Respighi
Society has written, “The way Respighi has crafted the music
means that considerable virtuosity is required of both players.
The interplay between the two instrumentalists is really the
heart of the work and this requires soloists of equal standing.
Perhaps this need explains the relative paucity of recordings;
there have been only twenty recordings ... Jascha Heifetz championed
the work and his 1950 recording with Emanuel Bay on RCA
Victor Gold Seal is the most famous. Very few contemporary violinists
have attempted a recording or given performances. As if to reinforce
the point that when outstanding artists do get together to perform
this work the result will be impressive, the recording with
Kyung-Wha Chung and Krystian Zimerman won the Gramophone Award
for Chamber Music in 1989. This was later re-released at mid-price
coupled with the Strauss violin sonata: DG 4579072.” The partnership
of Manara and Voghera scales, with aplomb, the virtuosic heights
demanded by this work.
The charming Six Pieces for Violin and Piano is enchanting
salon music written between 1901 and 1905 and typical of the
‘English Edwardian’ period. So much of it reminds one of the
music of Elgar. The pieces have diverse origins. The opening
Berceuse, originally conceived as a piece for a string
ensemble, has the violin weaving a nostalgic melody over a rippling
piano accompaniment. In very similar vein, the sugary Melodia
is alone in being originally conceived for violin and piano.
Leggenda first planned for violin and orchestra, and
the most considerable piece, is more introspective and dramatic.
The fourth piece was originally for piano alone; its marking
Valse caressante, speaks for itself - it is a
glittering waltz that enchants the ear although Manara’s interpretation
is a tad too spiky. The gorgeous, lilting, dreamy Serenata,
the shortest piece, was a number from the opera Re
Enzo. Finally, Aria, which had been composed in
St Petersburg where Respighi worked with Rimsky-Korsakov, was
originally written for strings and organ.
A worthy collection of less well-known Respighi chamber pieces
performed with virtuosity and vivacity.