Respighi: Concerto in modo misolidio

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Respighi
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Concerto in modo misolidio; Fountains of Rome
PERFORMER: Olli Mustonen (piano); Finnish Radio SO/Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1165-2

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Respighi’s quaintly named Concerto in modo misolidio has never prospered as a concert piece, not least because its long opening movement (over 18 minutes) is dominated by the rhythms and undulations of the plainsong quoted, which doesn’t lend itself to cohesively linear symphonic development, and can seem episodic. That danger isn’t entirely avoided in Olli Mustonen’s technically sleek performance, where in comparison the more forceful Geoffrey Tozer, on a rival Chandos disc, alchemises the material into something tractable and momentarily gripping.

In the Lento middle movement, whose gravely unravelling string theme sounds uncannily like Vaughan Williams, Mustonen’s pointillistic articulation of the angular piano part flits uneasily over the orchestral writing, itself somewhat routinely shaped by Sakari Oramo. Tozer and conductor Edward Downes give themselves considerably more elbow room in phrasing and dynamics, and are again much more convincing. The finale has the same pattern: Mustonen is virtuosic, while Tozer is more probing and variegated.

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Competition in the coupled Fountains of Rome is fierce, and while Oramo’s version is solid and respectable, it’s somewhat generalised in impact. Woodwind figurations have little of the tang and peppiness of rival interpretations (Pappano’s EMI recording, for instance), and the Ondine sound, though weighty where necessary (‘Fontana di Trevi’ has a suitably pile-driving climax), has a tendency to veil and muffle the inner detail of Respighi’s vivid, suggestive orchestration. Another Roman tone-poem could have fitted on the disc too, but I doubt it would have altered the verdict. Terry Blain