The amplitude and clarity of the sound here is exceptional - a good recording to test audio equipment for accuracy and ambience. It reveals the exceptional - and perhaps, to some, surprising - virtuosity of the Minnesota Orchestra. Of course, they have an excellent pedigree and number among previous music directors Ormandy, Mitropoulos, Skrowaczeski and Marriner, so it shouldn't be such a revelation that they are a gifted and finally drilled band. Oue's tenure enjoyed a mixed reception and success but there is no arguing with the quality of his best recordings with them and this is indeed one of the best.
The programme is of interest in that it pairs two rarer suites by Respighi with one of his most famous works, "The Pines of Rome". Oue takes the latter somewhat more carefully than some predecessors but the richness of tonal palette and careful drawing out of various instrumental lines produces a very satisfying result. He holds it all together in the challenging "Villa Borghese" movement, creates mystery in the "Catacomb" and nocturnal magic in the "Janiculum". The crescendo in the last triumphantly brutal section is carefully graded to create the requisite majestic, overwhelming effect.
Many individual sections of the orchestra stand out but the brass, woodwind and percussion are especially impressive. I am in two minds about the other music presented here: the first two sections of "Belkis" are superb. The composer has evidently aimed to ""fly to India for gold, /Ransack the ocean for orient pearl" in his orchestration: noodling flutes, blaring brass, haunting little xylophone airs and muttering woodwinds all combine to decorate sinuous, meandering melodies in a minor key; then in the second movement a solo viola reminiscent in mood of "Scheherazade" plays beguilingly to set the scene for Belkis's dance presumably performed à la Salome. The last two sections I find less convincing: the "War Dance" smacks of poor man's "Rite of Spring" and the "Orgiastic Dance" lacks coherence and inspiration and rather goes through the motions of exotic musical gestures and the distant, wordless melismata of the tenor solo seems rather redundant, though the instrumental colouring is a gorgeous as ever.
That impression that we are moving perilously close to film or mood music is not relieved by the negligible impact of "Dance of the Gnomes" which is a grotesquery of muted trumpets, squalling woodwind, a cascading harp and grumbling bassoons; it isn't very memorable.
So, five stars for sound, four and a half for the playing which is very fine but perhaps exceeded in energy by the finest accounts and just under four stars for the music itself - if you follow my rather desperate attempt to justify my application of what must necessarily be a fairly crude rating system.
on 7 July 2002
Some rare music on this CD (Dance of the Gnomes), I don't recall seeing this orchestral suite anywhere else? Belkis, Queen of Sheba - suite is another rarity to appear on CD. The playing is well cultivated and precision of the playing is excellent. Oue is a new name to me, but he manages to execute the orchestra to play the orchestral music in a disciplined manner. The recording is EXCELLENT, well worth obtaining purely on the recorded sound quality alone. This is a also a HDCD disk, if played back on a HDCD player the extra detail of sound can be obtained... but of course can still be played on conventional CD players. I might mention this is a difficult CD to obtain and is only available on Import. Buy this CD!!!
on 31 December 2012
The most interesting piece in this collection is Belkis. There are too few recordings and yet it is a very fine collection. Having heard a few of the other recordings, this is my preferred. The sound is stunning. No muddiness here. The preformances from the players too are excellent. The conductor Oue binds the piece together perfectly. A second choice is obviously the only other contender, Geoffrey Simon, but this version tops it.