The "100 Years of Italian Opera" series released by Opera Rara is unique in the annals of opera recordings. However, this installment is especially exciting as it documents the evolution of Italian opera during the 1820's, the decade when romanticism truly began to come into its own on the operatic stage. Opera Rara has lovingly compiled a variety of arcana written by composers famous and forgotten. Included is everything from overtures to arias, duets, ensembles, and entire scenes.
The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 3 is rarely heard, though it is a finely crafted work worth greater attention. It has suffered alongside the magnificent and superior Second and the ever-popular First. Moreover, it is not a bona fide concerto at all, the composer having completed only the first movement before his sudden death in 1893. Contrary to the suggestion of a few, it is highly unlikely he intended to produce a one-movement concerto. Tchaikovsky wrote two other piano pieces the same year bearing the titles "Andante" and "Finale," respectively. Following his death, Taneyev orchestrated these and attached them to the Concerto, though Tchaikovsky had left no indication they were to be a part of it. But the pair did share something in common with the completed first movement: a theme source – the incomplete Symphony No. 7. In any event, the opening movement of this Concerto is the most compelling, featuring an exuberant main theme whose first two notes are the central melodic element. An attractive slow melody is soon presented, followed by a theme of great vivacity and rhythmic drive.
A work with a name like this can only be unusual. The opus in question is a three-part solo piano epic, lasting a shade under four hours and of a complexity to match. Combine an all-night raga sequence with Bach's Art of Fugue and you're getting close. Is it worth the listen? Yes, if you want to give your heart and mind–not just your brain–a real workout. For all his outsize demands, Sorabji was a front-rank pianist, who understood technique as a physical end to spiritual means. There are stretches of manic complexity here, but also passages of real poetry: try the lengthy "Interludium primum" which opens Part 2, or many of the 81(!) variations which follow the magisterial "Passacaglia" in Part 3. It's music which cries out for transcendental virtuosity, and Geoffrey Douglas Madge gives it just that. He gave four performances over six years and this Chicago one from 1983 assumed mythic status among those who heard it. Remastered for CD release, it is awe-inspiring in its grasp of what's gone into this music: the audience clearly living it with the pianist every step of the way. Hear it for yourself, then why not run the marathon or climb Everest for relaxation?
Respighi’s colourful music could have been written with the clear, full-bodied Chandos sound in mind. Following on from where Geoffrey Simon began for the label in the Eighties, Edward Downes is now exploring the more symphonic side of Respighi’s output, showing there is more to him than the Roman trilogy (if not that much, qualitatively). The present disc includes two of his four concertante works for piano and orchestra, the extended Toccata (according to Tozer’s booklet note, the longest such work in existence) and the quirky Slavonic Rhapsody, with its humorous sideswipe at Dvorák. More characteristic of Respighi is the concert overture derived from his opera Belfagor, about the exploits of a Till Eulenspiegel/Don Juan figure, portrayed with suitably colourful sound-painting. All these, together with the Bachian Three Chorales, are played with marvellous verve and commitment – the BBC PO under Downes has a way with this out-of-the-way repertoire that few can equal. The sound quality on this disc is nothing short of stunning.