Respighi: La Pentola Magica - Conti
CPO 777 071-2
Respighi: La Pentola Magica, La Sensitiva, Aretusa
Damiana Pinti (mezzo soprano)
Orchestra Sinfonica del Teatro Massimo di Palermo
Marzio Conti (conductor)
The Other Respighi
Ottorino Respighi is really known only as the composer of three brilliant, spectacularly orchestrated Roman tone poems. Otherwise he is usually dismissed as an eclectic who created nothing that he or we might call his own. His oeuvre nevertheless ranges from songs through quartets, sonatas, and piano and organ music to ballet music, concertos, and operas. His wife Elsa, herself a mezzo-soprano, claimed in her biography that Respighi found his most natural form of expression in his songs. And his orchestral music indeed too is often distinguished by a marked lyrical element. The poet Shelley was an especially rich source of inspiration for Respighi, and the two great orchestral songs La Sensitiva and Aretusa go back to texts by him. For Diaghilev’s Russian ballet company Respighi composed not only the ballet La boutique fantastique on themes by Rossini but also La pentola magica based on Russian composers. Here it should be remembered that Respighi was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov. An enthralling CD!
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Review by Graham Williams - October 10, 2006
Respighi’s ballet La Pentola Magica (The Magic Pot – mis-translated on the first page of the booklet as Plot!) and dating from 1920 is the only purely orchestral item here, but anyone expecting another Boutique Fantasque will be sadly disappointed.
The piece consists of twelve short movements that are arrangements by Respighi of works by minor Russian composers, including Rubinstein, Grechaninov and Arensky, as well as folktunes and is in some respects a tribute to Rimsky-Korsakov his teacher at the time. As one might expect, it is quite melodic and beautifully orchestrated, but regrettably can appear fairly unmemorable. It certainly needs a stronger advocacy than it receives here from Marzio Conti and the Orchestra Sinfonica del Teatro Massimo di Palermo who give a performance that sounds dutiful rather than enthusiastic (the RBCD on Chandos by Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic is in a different league altogether).
The ballet is framed by two of Respighi’s settings of poems by Shelley for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (Il Tramonto being the third).
Respighi’s setting of La Sensitiva (The Sensitive Plant) is quite ravishing and its melodic invention makes up for what was lacking in La Pentola Magica. In this piece Respighi’s inspiration never falters but it presents quite a challenge for the soloist who has to sustain an almost unbroken line of beautiful tone throughout its 31 minutes and at the same time bring the imagery of the poem to life. Damiana Pinti, while not matching Janet Baker’s incomparable performance on CD, achieves this with some success and both Conti and the orchestra too revel in the exquisite orchestral colours.
Aretusa tells the story of Arethusa, a water nymph, who ran from a suitor, Alpheus, a river god, and made her way to the isle of Ortygia in Syracuse, in Sicily. She called on Artemis, who helped her by changing her into a fountain. Undaunted, Alpheus diverted his river underground, mingling his waters with hers. It is most fitting that it is performed here by a Sicilian orchestra.
In this shorter (12m) piece, Respighi sets the words of the poem to imaginative and dramatic music, this time suggesting water and the swell of the ocean. Once again Damiana Pinti rises to the challenge, only occasionally pushing her youthful sounding voice a little too hard.
The recording, though clear and with a wide dynamic range, is far too close. This produces, at times, overbearing brass and is not kind to the strings, which can sound shrill. A pity.
Surround channels are limited to ambience, which certainly helps reduce the claustrophobic image.
Copyright © 2006 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net