RESPIGHI Il tramonto
This beautifully programmed disc is in many ways let down by the work that to all intents and purposes forms its raison d’être, the 1914 ‘lyric poem’ Il tramonto for female voice and strings. A setting of Shelley’s ‘The Sunset’, it’s an exercise in post-Romantic morbidity that has links with the Italian Symbolist movement, which took Shelley as a source of inspiration. The booklet-notes evoke Tristan as a comparison for its night-obsessed lovers, though the syllabic vocal line, carefully following the contours of spoken Italian, reveals the deeper influence of Debussy’s Pelléas, while the finely wrought string-writing suggests that Respighi was familiar with Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.
Notable interpreters on disc include Irmgard Seefried, Anne Sofie von Otter and Magdalena Kožená, and this new version, from the Canadian ATMA label, is not quite in the same league. Isabel Bayrakdarian’s declamatory way with the text impresses but the close recording catches a pulse in her tone and some curious moments of shrillness at the top. Well aware that if you push the piece too hard it becomes self-indulgent, Alain Trudel conducts with admirable restraint. The playing is clean and clear but the Laval orchestra’s very bright string sound sits at times uneasily with a work that trades primarily in crepuscular half-tones.
This is a shame, because the rest of the disc is rather fine. Trudel’s no-nonsense way with Respighi speaks volumes in the first set of Ancient Airs and Dances, which are done with plenty of wit and elegance. The bright orchestral sound comes into its own in Trittico Botticelliano, where the textures are nicely clear and sensuous. Best of all, though, is Gli uccelli, where the playing is excellent, the instrumental solos particularly graceful and poised. It’s very enjoyable, provided Il tramonto is not your main focus of interest: if that if the case, however, then Irmgard Seefried and the Lucerne Festival Strings under Rudolf Baumgartner remain unsurpassed.