Riccardo Chailly and the Filarmonica della Scala continue their acclaimed series celebrating the great Italian composers with Respighi, out on11th September on Decca Classics. The release offers a curated programme of early rarities and the sparklingly evocative Pines and Fountains of Rome.

This new recording sets out to present the full complexity of Respighi’s image as well as the richness of his oeuvre by showcasing two “triptychs” of his works: three little-known pieces from among his juvenilia, and three compositions from his maturity including two from his famous Roman trilogy. 30 years of music are represented, spanning almost the entirety of Respighi’s output, from his student years to the three decades of his later years from which the featured works represent outstanding examples.

The works from the first “triptych” were composed, respectively, in 1901, 1902 and 1903: namely, the Aria (here in a version for strings only, and later to be incorporated into the Suite in G with organ); the Leggenda (which also forms part of the Six Pieces for violin and piano); andDi sera.

With the three later pieces there is a radical change in geography and mood as well as in Respighi’s standing in the world. Here we meet the ‘Roman’ Respighi, who from 1913 was professor of composition (and later director) at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia and an established composer after his breakthrough with Fountains of Rome (1915–16). The other two masterpieces from his maturity are Pines of Rome from 1924 and the third set of Ancient Airs and Dances from 1931, i.e. from the composer’s final flowering, a time when Gabriele d’Annunzio was considering him to write the soundtrack for a film version of his play La figlia di Iorio.

The Respighi style is made up of a complex collection of ingredients. Foremost among them is his invention of an orchestral melos that is not at all operatic in character but is inward-looking and melancholy, burnished and elegiac, dark-hued and yet capable of transfiguration, a style that Respighi had experimented with in his early works when writing for the pure timbre of solo instruments and which he returned to again in the Arie di corte of the final suite of Ancient Airs and Dances.

Secondly, inspired by the teachings of Torchi in Bologna and honed through his assiduous habit of making transcriptions, there is Respighi’s reimagining of ancient music, his deliberate, and then very up-to-date, borrowing of musical forms from the past, from Gregorian chant to the 16th- and 17th-century lute collections that provided the source for the Ancient Airs and Dances. These forms and genres, the melodic lines and harmonic settings all evoke, with marvellous transparency and sharpness, an archaic soundworld containing multiple layers of meaning – ideological, nationalistic and spiritual.

Rome was Respighi’s spiritual home, where the first performances of Fountains and Pines took place, at the Teatro Augusteo, and where the Respighis resided. Most of all, Rome was the monumental, fountain-filled city celebrated by D’Annunzio in his novel Il piacere or eulogised by Emilio Settimelli in his poetry collection Mascherate futuriste of 1917.

The structural qualities of Fountains and Pines are no less remarkable. This was something that Respighi mulled over for years – how to create, by way of four linked symphonic tableaux, a landscape heavily shaped by man and rich in cultural and emotional resonances, with a common theme that varies according to changes of scenery and times of day.

An entirely new approach, in short, to the Classical-Romantic symphony, refracted through the lens of the symphonic poem into a highly individual genre, one that has parallels with Mahler’s technique and whose felicitous inventiveness had the power to startle its listeners like a revelation, an Italian Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, heralding a new century.