The highly anticipated concert of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra at the second day of the Eurasia Festival attracted much attention due to an opportunity to make acquaintance with an Italian musical landscape of the last hundred years. Not exactly a retrospective, the programme put a spotlight on three composers and featured two layers, characteristic for the Italian music and its development in the context of the European cultural tendencies before and after the Second World War. 

Marco Angius © Tatyana Andreyeva
Marco Angius
© Tatyana Andreyeva

A renowned specialist in contemporary and avant-garde music, the RAI Orchestra postponed the innovative groundbreaking compositions in favor of imaginative and colourful world of Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). With the first snow, covering the streets of Ekaterinburg, the Trittico Botticelliano (Botticelli Triptych, 1927) provided a mouthful of fresh air everybody needed. Inspired by Sandro Botticelli’s famous paintings Spring, The Adoration of the Magi’s and the Birth of Venus, the Italian pupil of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov managed to find the same orchestral colours as the painter on his palette: transparent, light, serene. Within an instant the strings filled the concert hall with a chearful hubbub of bird chatterings announcing the awakening of nature in spring. The pastoral Adoration added a magic sphere, created by a heavenly sounds of celesta and harp and the variations on a Gregorian chant Veni, veni Emanuel. The colours of the third triptych painting came to life in delicate flowing musical lines shaped by Marco Angius’ gently and clear conducting patterns. With the same clarity the Italian conductor revealed the structure and pulsation of Respighi’s Gregorian Concerto (1921). As a real prior, he guided his ‘schola cantorum’ through an impressive and radiant musical ‘cathedral’, full of allusions to plainchant and the Easter sequence Victimae paschali.

The Czech violinist Josef Špaček, finalist of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2012, found easily his way in this concerto. His rich, lucid and graceful sound suited perfectly by a refined Respighi. Špaček was convincing in both the virtuosity and expressivity of his playing; he demonstrated a sense of musical phrasing, attention to details and the imperturbable concentration. The last ability is very necessary in Ekaterinburg where the audience seems simply to refuse to swich off mobile telephones. One of these devices performed its own concerto during one of Špaček’s solo passages. Fortunately it didn’t happened again during his virtuoso encore, a solo from Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata, Op.115

© Tatyana Andreyeva
© Tatyana Andreyeva
The idyllic mood in the audience was shaken after a break when the RAI Orchestra stepped eighty years forward in time. Not everybody was prepared for such a time travel with a ‘consistent postmodernist’ Fausto Romitelli (1963-2004). His Dead City Radio (2003) portrays a destructive and hypnotical impact of mechanical media upon the conscience and state of mind of its listeners. The Italian composer mixed sounds freely, looking for a synthesis of struggling, sharp, crashing, discordant, conflicting and fighting with each other sounds. This extremely interesting composition was unfortunately unexpected by the most of public. The very reserved applause was more polite than affectionate. 

After this first shock a rather different reception was reserved for the already 65-years old Composition No.1 (1949) by Bruno Maderna (1920-1973) which finally made a long postponed debut in Russia. Played in its own time it would undoubtedly make a statement as Dead City Radio just a few minutes ago. But after Romitelli, the dodecaphonic exercises of Maderna missed their effect and sounded quite dated. A structrucal expansion of ten sounds, their thematic development and by the composer himself indicated ‘metamorphoses’ as integration, synthesis, disintegration and dispertion, appeared as classical work which original innovative effects has changed in a acceptable, temperate and solid construction. Just a switch in a programme might have made Maderna a preparing step for Romitelli and ensured more appreciation for both Italian composers.

All possible emotions and comments were as a matter of fact tempered very ably by RAI Orchestra itself with a choice of its encore: a lyric Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. It sounded literally and figuratively as music to everybody’s ears and closed peacefully this thoroughly memorable Italian music evening.