Ottorino Respighi Complete piano Review by Olga de Kort – Piano Bulletin 2022/1

Ottorino Respighi
Complete piano music, vol. 1, vol.2 Giovanna Gatto
Toccata, TOCC0405, TOCC0605

With each new discovery in music archives, we rejoice that the music of a forgotten composer is brought to life and given a second chance. But how well do we know the oeuvres of composers who, at first glance, do not have to complain about the lack of attention and have never left the music history books? In many cases they are only known for one or two works from the “iron repertoire” and their other compositions are hardly ever played. This happened to Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936), for example, whose symphonic poems Le Fontane di Roma, I Pini di Roma and Feste Romane remain by far the most popular works from his very varied musical legacy.
Hopefully, this will now change and we will also get to know Respighi as a piano composer. Although he was largely self-taught as a pianist and studied composition, violin and organ at the conservatoire, Respighi regularly performed his own piano pieces and accompanied his chamber music and vocal works. He also played the solos in his compositions for piano and orchestra, such as the Concerto in Modo Misolidio and the Toccata per pianoforte e orchestra, which he premiered with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Willem Mengelberg in 1925 and 1928 respectively.
The first steps towards an integral recording of Respighi’s piano pieces, including his unpublished music and transcriptions, were taken in 2018 by Italian pianist Giovanna Gatto. On her first CD, she presented the compositions from 1897-1921, including the Sonata in f (1897-98), rediscovered almost a hundred years later, performed and published in 1986), the Preludes in b-flat and d (1903), Toccata in d-doric (1916), three Andante’s (1896) and Tre preludi sopra melodie gregoriane (1921). Especially these last three miniatures impress with their tonal depth, dark and lofty timbres and the stately carrying in the style of Liszt’s later works, yet worked out with the fairy grandeur of Busoni.
The second CD appeared in August 2021, with Respighi’s first piano works such as the Sonata in a, Presto, Allegro, Fugue, Scherzo and Preludio con fuoco from the years 1896-98. These romantic youthful works are clearly inspired by Brahms, Schumann and Chopin, with a touch of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. In the cheerful and witty First Suite in G (1898), the young composer related to the musical traditions of Italian ballet and pantomime. The Respighi of his later symphonic works is first recognisable in Sei pezzi per pianoforte from 1903-05. Of these short, atmospheric pieces, the Notturno is the best known, thanks to its many performances by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.
The third CD, still in preparation, will be dedicated to Respighi’s piano transcriptions of works by Frescobaldi and of his own Antiche arie e danze per liuto, originally written for orchestra.
The Italian pianist is an excellent advocate for these little-known com- positions: deep feeling, technically well equipped and in possession of a warm and full touché, which lends extra atmosphere to Respighi’s music. With great passion, dedication and empathy, she leads the listener through the colourful world of her compatriot. The world where Italian folklore and old church hymns are just as natural as a style mix of Verism, Neo-classicism and post-romantic impressionism, and where elevated melancholy together with festive exuberance prevail.

– Olga de Kort
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