There are two early works and one latish one on this disc. The brief Slavic Fantasy is obviously one outcome of Respighi’s period of study with Rimsky-Korsakov, but the piano concerto (even earlier) is of a more generalised late-romantic type, which is not surprising when one considers that at its date of publication Brahms was only five years dead and Dvorak was still alive. These pieces make no demands of the listener, but there is no reason to be supercilious about them.
The really interesting item is the Toccata, actually slightly longer than the officially-designated concerto. The respected musical sage Donald Francis Tovey distinguished between two types of toccata. On the one hand there were the ‘rich and varied compositions’ given the name of toccata by Bach. On the other hand were ‘dull perpetuum mobile etudes’, authorship unspecified. Tovey probably has a legitimate point regarding the latter category, although I would like to exempt Schumann’s and Poulenc’s perpetua mobilia from the charge of dullness. Be that as it may, what we get from Respighi is definitely in my own opinion a rich and varied composition. Its date is not far from that of the Concerto Misolidio and the idiom is not worlds apart from that either. There is a striking central section that is definitely on the dark side, and an interesting feature is a short obbligato part for a solo cello.
It gives me great pleasure to say that the recording (1994 DDD) lets us hear the fine and accomplished soloist Konstantin Scherbakov as he deserves to be heard, and I have no such reservations about the piano sound as I felt bound to register when reviewing his Misolidio offering. I was also extremely pleased with the Slovak Radio Symphony orchestra, whose clean and alert playing is well served by a particularly clear recorded tone. The liner note comes in three languages, and if you glance at the back of the box you will find that the English contribution is from Keith Anderson. Anderson’s remarks on the composer are helpful and interesting as background, and as he has three compositions to talk about on this occasion he does not have space to waste on telling us that the music does this and then that and then the next, things we can all hear for ourselves. I only regret that a commentator endowed with thoughts of his own did not take more trouble over what he was doing.
The music is not often performed, the performances here are admirable, and as so often we are indebted to Naxos for giving us the opportunity to become conversant.
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Continuing my brief reviews of the Naxos Respighi CDs I have bought in recent times, the disc under inspection features the terrific pianism of Konstantin Scherbakov backed up by a good orchestra. This Naxos CD has more than acceptable sonics, by-the-way.
Famous for his grandiose and exciting (if you are in the mood) orchestral works such as Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals (see Respighi: Symphonic Poems, Respighi's other works such as his opera's (most of which failed), piano works (see Respighi - Piano Works, and, as here, concerted works are much less well-known. Whilst I'd be the first to admit that the concerted works do not really represent the best of Respighi, they can be beautiful and are well worth a hearing or two.
The most succesful of the piano concertos is generally held to be the 1928 "Toccata". This needs to be played enthusiastically, just as Scherbakov does here. The CD also provides the early "Fantasia Slava" and A-minor piano concerto, so the value-for-money equation is very good.
Recommended for those wanting to explore Respighi a little further than the usual orchestral works. I can't imagine you will find better performances of these works, whatever the price of the disc.
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