Rare Gems from Respighi; Personal Works by Lieberson and Theofanidis

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Naming your ensemble after a favorite composer is nothing new. Just ask the Mendelssohn Quartet, the Bach Collegium Japan or the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. But it suggests an extra degree of commitment and fandom to embrace a name like the Chamber Orchestra of New York "Ottorino Respighi," which is exactly what the Sicilian-born, New York-based conductor Salvatore di Vittorio did when embarking on a recording of Respighi’s lesser-known orchestral works.

While the orchestra may not be a household name, Di Vittorio is hardly a newcomer to Respighi's music, having completed some of the Italian composer’s unfinished scores. Contemporary audiences are mostly acquainted with Respighi through his glittering tributes to the Eternal City -- The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome – yet the works on this collection are well worth getting to know.

Chief among them is the Violin Concerto, left unfinished in 1903 and completed by di Vittorio in 2009. With its Slavonic melodic touches, the concerto is somewhat reminiscent of Respighi's teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, but it also inhabits the lush, romantic sound world of Bruch and Brahms. The young violinist Laura Marzadori plays the piece quite well, with a combination of lyrical effusiveness and quicksilver bravado.

The Aria for Strings and the Suite for Strings are attractive, early exercises in neo-baroque writing, with the latter piece laid out in movements like “Ciaccona,” “Siciliana,” and so forth. Finally, in the orchestral suite Rossiniana (1926), Respighi pays homage to one of his great heroes in a colorful score that seems to filter Rossini’s music through the more modern style of Respighi. All of these works are given well-shaped and generally cohesive performances that do this lesser-known music justice.

Respighi: Violin Concerto in A; Aria for Strings; Suite for Strings; Rossiniana
Marzadori/Chamber Orchestra of New York Ottorino Respighi/Di Vittorio
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Q2's Album of the Week:

We’ll soon be hearing much more from Christopher Theofanidis this fall when his opera, Heart of a Soldier, opens in San Francisco on September 10. Until then, we can content ourselves with Theofanidis’s extensive discography, the latest addition to which is this striking release from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on its house label. Like Beethoven and Mahler before him, Theofanidis’s music rings as deeply and genuinely personal, an expression of the composer’s own life, and this symphonic glimpse into his world proves it to be at turns light and dark, turbulent and bucolic, and never without energy.

Bookended by a complementary first and fourth movement—the former bursting with joy but offering hints of mania, the latter brooding and tumultuous with moments of sheer peacefulness—Symphony No. 1 breathlessly careens between light and dark, percussive nocturnes and bright, brassy scherzos to create an overwhelming arc of human emotion.

Amor, Amor, Las Nubes A La Torre Del Cielo - Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Robert Spano and the ASO give a passionate reading of this work before jumping into an equally white-knuckle ride of the late, great Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs. Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor lends a rich, French roast tone that simultaneously hits at the ear and gut level. Devotees will know this cycle—similar to Theofanidis’s symphony in its multifarious tour of disparate emotions, all brought on in this case by love—for its recording by Lieberson’s late wife, mezzo Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson (for whom this piece was also written). How luxurious to have O’Connor’s own, fully-invested and haunting account, on recording, offering another glimpse into the worlds of Lieberson’s romantically modern music and Neruda’s modern romances.

Theofanidis: Symphony No. 1; Lieberson: Neruda Songs
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Robert Spano, conductor
Available at Arkivmusic.com