Another imaginative collection from conductor Simon, who is prone to search out obscure but worthwhile works by well-known composers to spice up his concert programs around the world as well as provide material for his Cala record label releases. The series of which this SACD is a part normally has a concert warhorse as the centerpiece. In this case it’s not a warhorse at all, but one of Respighi’s loveliest works, the three musical impressions of famous paintings by 16th-century master Botticelli. The first movement – Spring – calls up remembrances of Vivaldi’s concerto with the same subtitle. The Adoration of the Magi makes use of the ancient hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel in its semi-religious mood. The closing Birth of Venus portrays the goddess surfing in and out on her seashell accompanied by a rich and romantic theme in the strings.
The Ballad of the Gnomes is a symphonic tone poem inspired by the verses of a 20th-century poet who was inspired by ancient Greco-Roman verses about dangerous females who did in innocent males (the Sirens, for example). This particular story is not about nice garden gnomes by any means; in fact it’s rather shocking. A free translation is in the note booklet. But it’s a smashing piece of music that would be a wonderful replacement for the usual boring overture on many concert programs. And an audiophile’s dream.
The piece for strings and organ is similar to Respighi’s suites based on themes of the old Italian masters, except that the themes are original with him, although in the baroque style. The 13-minute Adagio could be the middle movement of a gorgeous cello concerto, but the rest of it unfortunately doesn’t exist.
The original recordings were made in 1990, and were probably not multichannel, but the derived surround is excellent, with an effective acoustic portrayal of the concert hall venue.
– John Sunier