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Respighi: La Pentola
22 Jan 2010

Respighi — Works for solo voice and orchestra

While Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) is best known to modern audiences for his colorful programmatic works associated with Italian locations, his vocal music is also engaging.

Ottorino Respighi: La Pentola Magica, La Sensitiva, Aretusa.

Damiana Pinto, mezzo soprano, Orchestra Sinfonica del Teatro Massimo di Palermo, Marzio Conti, conductor.

CPO 777-071-2 [SACD]

$16.99  Click to buy

Among his works for solo voice and orchestra, are settings of texts by the English poet Shelley, Aretusa [“Arethusa”] (1910-11), and La Sensitiva [“The Sensitive Plant”] (1914). (Respighi composed a third piece with a text by Shelley, Il Tramonto [“The Sunset”], a work with string quartet, even though it is sometimes performed by string orchestra, but it is not included in this recording.)

This recording of La Sensitiva is an engaging piece because of the florid vocal line and the evocative accompaniment. The sonorities are reminiscent of some of his tone poems, with solo wind timbres and richly scored strings. As full as the orchestra can be, Respighi never allows the scoring to obscure the voice, and in this recording Damiana Pinti offers a fine reading of the text. Her voice is resonant and textured, as the singer uses various shadings to color the line. As clear as her middle and lower registers are, Pinti has a clear and even upper range, which serves the piece well. Moreover, in the sustained passages, Pinti’s tones have a fine shape, which underscores her carefully enunciated text. While Respighi is known for his instrumental piece, those familiar with his music may wish to hear this vocal setting, which serves Shelley’s text well, which is served well through its translation into Italian. Yet the accompaniment not only supports the voice in this piece, but reinforces the mood and sense of the text. If some aspects of Respighi’s programmatic music emerge in this work, it is not unwelcome, but certainly another means of appreciating this extended piece for solo voice and orchestra.

A similar piece, Aretusa, is equally colorful, as the orchestral accompaniment serves to reinforce the meaning of the text. These somewhat programmatic gestures offer some contrast to the relatively declamatory vocal line. Pinti offers as expressive a reading of Aretusa as she does in La Sensitiva. Here, here the sometimes rich and dark shadings are impressive, and Pinti is good to shape the line through her pacing and dynamics; likewise, Marzio Conti provides solid leadership of the orchestra. With music like this, where the accompaniment intersects the vocal line, the clean entrances and precise releases are crucial to executing the pieces well.

The other work on this disc is the ballet La Pentola Magica (1920), one of the composer’s five ballets, the best known being La Boutique Fantasque, (1918), which is based on music originally composed by Gioacchino Rossini. La Pentola Magica, translated as “The Magic Plot” is work in two parts, which conveys a fable about a Russian princess who longs for a handsome young prince to relieve her of her boredom. Despite attempts to entertain the princess, she is enchanted by the song of a Russian peasant. The peasant dances around a purportedly magic pot, and the princess wants it, since it appears to have supernatural properties. Ultimately the peasant will surrender the pot for kisses from the princess. The court astrologer shows the czar what is happening, and he throws a shoe at his daughter. Yet after she repulses the peasant, the peasant reveals himself as a handsome prince, and the work ends with the princess weeping for her loss.

La Pentola Magica contains some engaging music, not only in its evocation of the Russian court, but also in the entertainments for the princess, as found in the dance of the Armenian slave. Respighi used the opportunity to create some colorful episodes. While Respighi makes use of chromaticism, his harmonic structures remain solidly tonal; dissonances occur, sometimes to offer some color, but the music is never atonal.

All in all, the three pieces found in this recording offer a different side of Respighi than found in the more familiar tone poems about Italian subjects. While it is possible to find some contrast to those tone poems in the suites of Ancient Airs and Dances, the settings of poetry by Shelley are good examples of Respighi’s vocal writing. At the same time the ballet La Pentola Magica demonstrates yet another side of the composer’s musical imagination, which is given a convincing interpretation by Conti and the Orchestra Sinfonica del Teatro Massimo di Palermo. The sound on the CPO recording is clear and distinct, and this supports the colorful scoring that characterizes Respighi’s music.

James L. Zychowicz

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