There are so many good things about this disc, and I have such strong reasons for wishing to recommend it to other music lovers, that I want to give it the full 5 stars despite not being one hundred percent happy with the recorded sound. The first reason is simply that the music is generally unfamiliar, and the second is that it is very good music. Respighi was a musical scholar and antiquarian as well as being the composer of three famous tone-poems celebrating aspects of the city of Rome. Use of the ancient modes in the era of diatonic major and minor keys had never totally lapsed. You can hear them in Handel here and there, Beethoven goes modal at `seid umschlungen' in the finale of the ninth as well writing a complete slow movement for one of his quartets in the Lydian mode, and Brahms makes conspicuous use of modal effects in the second piano concerto, the fourth symphony and the clarinet quintet, to cite just obvious instances. However for an entire piano concerto to be proclaimed as being Mixolydian we have to wait for Respighi.
The Mixolydian mode is like the scale of G major with the F# leading note flattened into F natural. The modes are so strongly associated with Palestrina and the early polyphonists that they inevitably create a churchy impression, and my next reason for recommending this disc so warmly is the impressive sense of prayerful solemnity that the soloist Konstantin Scherbakov evokes in the concerto's first movement. In this he is probably helped by the sort of piano tone that the recording provides, but for all that I don't entirely like it. The piano has a very slightly muffled sound, as if the dampers were partially applied in passages that are loud and/or chordal. The piano is probably also a bit too prominent, this being a tendency in concerto recording that the 20th century never totally shook off. To complete my little list of quibbles there is an effective sense of menace in the timpani sequences in the first movement, but the drums are also pushed towards us in a way that I didn't think suitable.
All that said, the performance of the concerto is excellent, with the Russian soloist seeming totally at home with the Italian composer's descent into the profundities of his own special tradition. Respighi shows another side of his kaleidoscopic personality in the Concerto for Five. Commentators and reviewers rightly note the model as being the baroque concerto grosso in its 3-movement version, like Bach's Brandenburgs. What I have been surprised not to see remarked on is the resemblance to Stravinsky that seems highly obvious to me. Here I have no objections to the recorded sound, and I wish to compliment all five participants and I suppose also the conductor who has for some reason been thought necessary. For one minor but delightful touch let me draw attention to the violinist's perfect long sustained notes at the close of the slow movement.
There is a liner note that is quite useful up to a point but also a little odd. Very welcome are the notes on the performers, and the background information on Respighi is interesting as well. The remarks on the music (at least in the English essay, which is the only one of the three that I have tried to read) are of a familiar type that I lament at intervals, telling us what we can hear perfectly well for ourselves. The oddity is that while the German and French essays are attributed to their authors the English offering is for some inscrutable reason anonymous.
Something else that I would be interested to understand better is why the recordings, done in 1995 and 1996, were apparently not released until a few years later. I am only too grateful that they have been given to us at all, and in my usual way I shall end with my often-repeated tribute to Naxos for their enormous service to the musical public in supplying us with so much out-of-the-way music at such modest cost.