RECORDS / Double Play: Where's the face behind the mask?: Edward Seckerson and Stephen Johnson review new releases of Respighi rarities and familiar Stravinsky

RESPIGHI: Piano Concerto in A minor; Concerto in modo misolidio

Geoffrey Tozer (piano), BBC Philharmonic / Sir Edward Downes

(Chandos CHAN 9285)

ONCE again we are in Chandos's debt. This may not be the best of their rediscovered Respighi, but it's further proof that there is life, and work of real quality, beyond the more familiar Roman spectaculars and stylish repackagings of other people's tunes.

As ever, the presentation is stronger than the organisation. So, if form and compositional clear-sightedness are more important to you than incident, then this is likely to be a long haul. It's hard getting a handle on either piece. You go for the ride or not at all: protracted improvisations, elaborations, gorgeous flights of lyric fancy, big tunes with a whiff of the verismo about them (Respighi's operas urgently need reviving).

The early A minor Concerto is a real dog's dinner - all the gods in Respighi's pianistic pantheon present, correct and working overtime. But only the true original could make a daring flourish up the keyboard and drag the entire orchestra with him into a completely new key. That's the slow movement's moment of truth. Concerto in modo misolidio is stained-glass Respighi, ancient church modes writ large, larger, and largest. But maturity brings an ever more sensitive ear: the ability, for instance, to take the passacaglia theme from the finale and transform it, very simply, into something rare and beautiful.

These performers are wonderful advocates. All right, so you indulge and still leave the table feeling hungry. Does it really matter when you can always go back for more? ES

SIBELIUS came to hate Valse triste; Tchaikovsky devoutly loathed 1812; and if you wanted to be sure of Beethoven's undying hatred, all you had to do was say how much you liked his early Septet. Composers in all ages have turned against their most successful children and heaped praise on the apparent failures. Could that be why Respighi claimed that his Concerto in modo misolidio would live on when his other scores turned yellow on library shelves? There are fine details in this huge, sprawling canvas - not least the gorgeous tune in the slow movement - but on the whole I sympathise with those early audiences who evidently longed (or should I say pined) for the unfailingly magical Respighi of the Roman tone poems.

The earlier Concerto in A minor is stranger still - wildly eclectic (you don't have to be a Romantic Concerto specialist to play spot the influence), but again intermittently brilliant and beautiful. I'm glad I heard both works in these recordings, though. The sound is Chandos at its best, warm and atmospheric but also clearly focused, and Geoffrey Tozer is a very persuasive soloist, with all the elements of Respighi's multi-faceted piano style firmly in his grasp. Meanwhile Sir Edward Downes brings the sureness and understanding he has shown throughout this Chandos Respighi cycle. If he turns up more treasures like the Concerto gregoriano for violin (CHAN 9232), the quest will have been worth all the effort. SJ

STRAVINSKY: Firebird; Symphonies of Wind Instruments (original versions)

London Symphony Orchestra / Kent Nagano

(Virgin VC 5 45032 2)

MORE Ravel than Rimsky. This is probably the most ethereal, the most diaphanous Firebird you'll ever hear. Breathe, and it could all just blow away. From the first step we take into Kashchey's enchanted garden, with its tendrils of whispering glissandi, it's as if the sounds are more imagined than heard. The play of light and shade is astonishingly subtle, Nagano using the medium (exemplary recording) to achieve an undreamt of lucidity of texture right down to every last semi- quaver of the celeste part. The soft playing is exquisite, the 'Berceuse' transcendental. But remember where this music came from.

I'd like the Russianism, the gaudier pigments of the piece back, please. Even the 'Infernal Dance' generates only a controlled excitement. And what of the earth- tones, the folkloric edge that so strikingly offsets the balance and euphony of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments? Polished to a high gloss. ES

NO QUESTION, there are things in both works that benefit from Nagano's fastidious, keen-eared approach - clarity is vital in Stravinsky. But is it - as the composer himself sometimes claimed - the essence of good Stravinsky playing? The older man, the Stravinsky who related music to mathematics rather than to literature, may have thought so, but the young Russian who wrote the 1910 version of The Firebird was quite capable of smothering the piano score in Scriabinesque expression marks: timidante, Con maligna gioia, Sostenuto mystico . . . Simon Rattle's EMI recording brought some of this youthful ardour back to life along with the lavish scoring. Nagano is coolly efficient in comparison, sometimes gently graceful, but hardly approaching the tension and muscular energy of Stravinsky's own 1961 recording. The famous 'Danse infernale' strikes few sparks. It's a Firebird without the fire.

It comes after one of the dullest performances of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments I can remember - so much for the idea that all you have to do is let this piece run like clockwork. Even the harmonic and colouristic surprises of the original version failed to keep me glued. Surely part of the fascination of the Stravinskian mask is in the fleeting glimpses it allows of the human face behind it. Not here. SJ

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power