Ok, so Respighi’s Roman trilogy really is his masterpiece(s). But there is much more to Respighi, and it is definitely well worth discovering. Now, one of the most striking qualities of his output is his skill as an orchestrator, but even beyond his orchestral music there is quite a lot to enjoy and savor, and the chamber works on this disc are all highly recommendable for anyone with a modicum of interest in the byways of late romantic or post-romantic music. All the works were written during the first decade of the twentieth century, and all of them are brimful with good ideas, catchy themes, rapturously beautiful moments and imagination, all used for maximum effect by someone who clearly knew how to develop his material effectively.
All works are also more obviously romantic than some of Respighi’s later works – the influence of Brahms is ever-present, though it is tempered by an often sunny attitude and an aptitude for lighter textures. The piano quintet is somewhat weirdly balanced – it is over in 17 minutes, yet the first movement (of three) takes up more than 10 of those. And perhaps it is a bit on the long side for its material, yet it makes a powerful impact, with plenty of colors to go. The following two movements are rather light and easy on the ear. The string quartet, however, is the major discovery – a substantial, finely constructed and inventive work with plenty of magnificent moments pulled together into a powerful whole, and with a particularly impressive Presto third movement. The six pieces for violin and piano vary from the reflective to the salon-like, but overall these are rewarding works – though they are perhaps best enjoyed separately rather than listened to straight through.
The performances are absolutely first-rate. I found Marcia Crayford and Diana Ambache’s take on the violin pieces to be particularly impressive, but the string quartet is beautifully textured and coherently and convincingly laid out with colors, vitality and momentum. Similarly, one could hardly have hoped for better advocacy in the piano quintet, and if it comes across as slightly weaker than the quartet this is surely not the performers’ fault. Good, warm sound complete what is really a very enjoyable and fulfilling experience. Recommended with some enthusiasm.