Respighi Belkis, Queen of Sheba Suite; Dance of the Gnomes; Pines of Rome
Gone are the days when the Minneapolis Orchestra (as it then was) was regularly recorded by the major companies‚ but it is good to be reminded that under the latest music director‚ Eiji Oue‚ the Minnesota Orchestra remains as brilliant as ever‚ challenged here in an unusual Respighi programme involving three brazen showpieces‚ two of them rarities‚ and both demonstrating a close kinship with the everpopular Pines of Rome.
Even by Respighi’s standards the suite from the fulllength ballet‚ Belkis‚ Queen of Sheba‚ is brazen to the point of vulgarity‚ with maximum decibels allied to minimal argument. It kept reminding me of filmmusic for a Hollywood epic set in the Orient‚ but on its own terms it has plenty of panache‚ and without muting it at all Oue modifies the vulgarity. Earlier‚ Geoffrey Simon and the Philharmonia recorded it for Chandos with no holds barred‚ and there is something to be said for that.
The Dance of the Gnomes (1920) is a set of four pieces inspired by a deeply unpleasant poem of Carlo Clausetti‚ involving Amazonlike Gnomes who first torture their newly acquired husbands and then kill them in unmentionable ways. Just why Respighi was drawn to such a source is a mystery‚ but the orchestral writing – with the shrieks of the victims illustrated – is subtler and more atmospheric than in Belkis‚ with a fascinating trialrun for the opening of The Pines of Rome (1924) at the start.
Oue draws playing at once powerful and refined from his orchestra‚ and refinement is one of the elements in his reading of The Pines of Rome‚ generally light and transparent in its textures‚ however heavy. The recorded sound is brilliant too‚ though with the orchestra set slightly back in a warm acoustic‚ it cannot quite match the finest rival versions.