Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances

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COMPOSERS: Respighi
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Ancient Airs and Dances
PERFORMER: Sinfonia 21/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9415 DDD
Respighi’s reputation is as mixed as his music. A stylistic chameleon, he had an irredeemable fondness for ancient music and idioms, hence his concertos for piano and violin in Mixolydian and Gregorian modes respectively. At the other end of the scale, there’s the famous ‘Roman’ triptych of orchestral showpieces, which keeps his name alive in concert halls today. The Ancient Airs and Dances shows Respighi in yet another set of clothing, that of the tirelessly prolific arranger and orchestrator. He orchestrated Rachmaninov’s Études-tableaux, his ballet La boutique fantasque was built on melodies by Rossini, and the three suites on this disc are orchestral interpretations of lute music by various 16th- and 17th-century composers, among them the father of Galileo.

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The orchestrations vary in character. The faster dances have a sprightly, albeit well-upholstered, Baroque style, whereas the slow arias are more lavish, developing textures and mood over time in a quintessentially Romantic manner. By the standards of the modern authentic movement, this is heretical music, but bear in mind that perhaps we only know of these composers today through the championship of Respighi. Moreover, the performances are excellent, with a well-placed sense of fun. The disc includes two exquisite miniatures, an Aria and a Berceuse, here recorded for the first time. Christopher Lambton