Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Respighi: Complete Piano Music

Ottorino Respighi's reputation is based on his masterful orchestrations. So I was very curious to hear this release of his solo piano music. Would Respighi's music hold up without any brilliant orchestrations to distract the ear?

Happily, it does.

This 2-CD set comprises of two types of music. Works composed for the piano, and piano reductions of orchestral works. The former are early student pieces, composed when Respighi was in his 20s. The latter the composer wrote in his 30s and early 40s.

The early piano pieces are quite charming. Respighi has a facility for melody, that works even when unadorned. Most of these student pieces are quite short.

But there are two fairly substantial piano sonatas. These sonatas show the influence of Chopin on the young composer. While not masterworks, they're nonetheless well-constructed and engaging.

Respighi made piano reductions of his Antiche danze ed aria per liuto, and Tre preludi su melodie gregoriane. Hearing this music with the orchestration stripped away provided new insights. These compositions work as well when played on a piano as they do with an orchestra.

The piano reductions offer a different listening experience than the orchestral versions. They let me hear the underlying structure of the music more clearly, and appreciate Respighi's use of his thematic material.

Michele D’Ambrosio plays with a gentle touch and expressive tone. His sympathetic readings of Respighi's students works help them sound their best. But his performances of Respighi's piano reductions that really shine. I suspect it's because those mature works give D'Ambrosio more to work with. And he takes advantage of the opportunity they offer.

Ottorino Respighi: Complete Solo Piano Music 
Michele D'Ambrosio, piano 
Brilliant Classics 94442

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