WORKS: Piano Concerto in A minor; Concerto in modo misolidio
PERFORMER: Geoffrey Tozer (piano)BBC Philharmonic/Edward Downes
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9285 DDD
There are plentiful ingredients in Respighi’s Piano Concerto. Rhapsodic flourishes, triumphal declamations, huge, dense chords and passages of lyrical contemplation. Written in 1902, when he was in his early twenties, it shows multiple influences, none more than that of the Russia where he was working at this time as principal viola in the Russian Imperial Orchestra.
But whilst the concerto successfully embraces the grandiose gestures of Russian orchestral music, it offers neither the originality nor the emotional depth that makes contemporary concertos (by Rachmaninov, for instance) so popular today. It lasts only 24 minutes, but its incoherent,rambling structure makes it seem a great deal longer.
The Concerto in modo misolidio was composed over 20 years later. Like the earlier Concerto gregoriano for violin (reviewed on the ‘Orchestral’ pages in March 1994), it is based on medieval church modes, with the theme of the first movement derived from Gregorian chant. This gives the entire piece a vaguely antique gloss, which sits oddly with Respighi’s often lavishly Romantic language. It is verbose, grandiloquent, and somewhat pompous, but ultimately this concerto is redeeemed by moments of striking originality and, in the slow movement, luscious orchestral textures worthy, perhaps, of a Hollywood weepie.
These premiere recordings have the verve and confidence that one would associate with old favourites. If neither piece ever becomes popular, it will not be for want of the most determined advocacy. Christopher Lambton