WORKS: Concerto gregoriano; Poema autunnale; Ballata delle Gnomidi
PERFORMER: Lydia Mordkovitch (violin)BBC Philharmonic/Edward Downes
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9232 DDD
Respighi is best remembered for the lavish orchestral colours of his three symphonic poems, the Pines, Fountains and Festivals of Rome, pieces which have been described as God’s gift to hi-fi salesmen. But the Concerto gregoriano occupies an entirely different world. As you might expect from the title, it reflects the composer’s search for the ‘purity and sobriety of form peculiar to the religious music of the Middle Ages’.
The search was not entirely successful. The concerto was composed in 1921, but Respighi’s musical language is firmly stuck in Romanticism, and sits uneasily with the supposedly ‘Gregorian’ fragments that litter the melodic line. Its title is misleading: the piece works better as a pastoral idyll, with the strangely satisfying blandness of such quintessentially English works as Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending.
The violin soloist represents the cantor, and the orchestra the ‘choir of believers’ in a medieval religious service. The solo line is lyrical and essentially undramatic, to which Lydia Mordkovitch adds a much-needed passion, with a sweetness of tone undermined only once or twice by lapses in intonation.
The Poema autunnale, also for violin and orchestra, is even more meditative than the concerto, whilst the rumbustious Ballata delle Gnomidi is back in the safe territory of the hi-fi demonstrator. Christopher Lambton