Respighi: Sinfonia drammatica

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Sinfonia drammatica
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Edward Downes
Formerly held to consist of little more than three picture-postcardish symphonic poems on Roman sights and sounds – Fountains, Pines and Festivals – Respighi’s large and varied output is now being assiduously explored by record companies, with the result that its creator is emerging as a more complex figure than was hitherto suspected.


Scored for vast orchestra and unequivocally declaring its musical allegiance to the Austro-German tradition, this ‘Dramatic Symphony’ (1913-14) represents its composer’s orchestral ambitions at their apogee. The shadows of Wagner, Strauss and Mahler loom large, and the amiably exotic figure of Rimsky-Korsakov (with whom Respighi studied) puts in the occasional appearance. Given the eclectic nature of Respighi’s musical character, such diversity of ancestor-worship is hardly surprising. What is surprising is the assurance with which he brings off his scheme: in spite of a preponderance of slow music and a tendency towards the grandiose, the work is genuinely imposing.


Such music demands and receives playing of a high calibre, with Downes indulging its late-Romantic pretensions to the full. The sound is on the enclosed side, but manages to capture most of the striking detail. George Hall