- La primavera, for voices, chorus, orchestra & organ, P. 136
- Liriche su parole di poeti armeni, songs (4) for voice & piano, P. 132
- La pentola magica, ballet on Russian melodies, P. 129
Ottorino Respighi is a classic example of a composer known only for a few big hits, although his catalog runs to dozens of full-length works. With the demise of modernist control over recording and concert programs, works other than his big Roman tone poems are becoming better known. The three works on this release, recorded in the early '90s and acquired by Naxos from the defunct Marco Polo label, certainly come from odd corners of Respighi's output; their inspiration is not Italian but Armenian in two cases and Russian in the third. But each has its pleasures, and the readings by the single-named Respighi specialist Adriano, with a group of little-known but terrific Slovak vocal soloists, are very strong. The opening "La Primavera," a giant choral-orchestral cantata, has rarely been recorded before and has been unkindly treated even by Respighi's adoring biographers. A setting of a rather cosmic Armenian dramatic poem about God bestowing the gift of spring upon a generic pagan society, it's a late Romantic choral cantata of the sort that fell decisively out of fashion for many years. With an active piano part providing a kind of wash of sunlight, augmented by a large battery of other percussion, it's a bit bombastic but certainly not dull. The highlight of the disc may be the central "Quattro liriche su poeie populari armene," originally for voice and piano but composed for Respighi's wife, Elsa, and arranged for chamber group with her approval. Gregorian chant and medieval modes stand in for Armenian vocal material in economical settings that are beautifully rendered by mezzo soprano Denisa Slepkovska. The finale "La pentola magica" is a colorful pastiche of music, for a now-lost ballet (even the story is lost), by Respighi and other composers. Texts are summarized but not otherwise provided in any form, which is disappointing, but Marco Polo's engineers provided sound with depth and clarity in what must have been, at least in the case of "La Primavera," difficult conditions. Probably of most interest to Respighi fans or those interested in the international impact of Armenian culture, but an offbeat choice commended to anyone looking for an unusual vocal item or looking to stage a choral-orchestral extravaganza.