Respighi: Il tramonto; String Quartet in D; Quartetto dorico

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COMPOSERS: Respighi
LABELS: Vanguard
WORKS: Il tramonto; String Quartet in D; Quartetto dorico
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano); Brodsky Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 99216
Listeners new to the Quartetto dorico might be forgiven for taking it to be a displaced product of the English cowpat school c1925, maybe an undiscovered Phantasy Quartet by Herbert Howells or by the juvenile Britten fresh from an unwholesome continental encounter. For although the elements of its melos typify various compositional currents of the time – compressed, single-movement ground plan, plainsong allusions, austerish modality and unashamedly rhapsodic rhetoric – they don’t perhaps constitute the generally perceived lingua of the renowned composer of the Roman triptych.

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Yet Respighi it is; and without the resources at his disposal for spectacular orchestral affetti it proves well representative of this still shadowy composer’s fundamental urbanity, as does the early Quartet in D, curiously prescient of late Strauss in its harmonic slippage and filigree textures (but some 30 or so years premature). A violinist and luthier himself, as well as a staunch upholder of high and discerning cultural values, Respighi wrote idiomatically and reassuringly for the hallowed yet stubbornly un-Italian medium, never seeking to disrupt or overload its essentially co-operative, rather than confrontational, nature.

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The upstanding Brodsky Quartet strikes just the right balance between luxuriating in Respighi’s caressing conversazioni and turning his generally leisurely tempi to the service of cogent and crisp musical discourse; as indeed it does in the string quartet version of the Shelley setting Il tramonto, which, with Anne Sofie von Otter a moving yet restrained soloist – and the other generazione dell’ottanta composers notwithstanding – derives its singular beauty from its being as unoperatic as any vocal music by an Italian working in the first half of the 20th century could possibly be. Antony Bye