OTTORINO RESPIGHI: Metamorphoseon; Ballata delle Gnomidi; Queen of Sheba, Suite – Orch. Philharmonique Royal de Liege/ John Neschling – BIS mutichannel SACD BIS-2130, 72:15 [Distr. by Naxos] (8/14/15) ****:
Though overshadowed his famous Roman Trilogy, these three orchestral works by Respighi demonstate similar talents in orchestration, plus a wonderful sense of color, artistry and musical invention. The first dates from 1930 and was a commision from Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It is really a concerto for orchestra in 13 sections, played continuously. There are two themes and 12 modes which correspond to 12 different variations which transform the themes as they are heard on different instruments or different sections of the orchestra.
The Ballad of the Gnomes of 1920 is quite a colorful work, based on a poem by Carloe Clausetti about the sacrifice of an innocent male gnome by two gnome-women-witches. One may hear similarities in some sections to R. Strauss’ music for his opera Salome, and the final funeral march finds an echo in John Williams’ imperial march for Darth Vader in Star Wars. Belkis, Queen of Sheba is a ballet telling the Biblical story the tenth century B.C. visit to Jerusalem by the beauty, the Queen of Sheba. The ballet was not a big success, and to ensure that the work wouldn’t fall into oblivion, Respighi created this concert suite of four movements. “Solomon’s Dream” describes the majesty of the Israelite’s leader who invited Sheba, “The Dance of Belkis at Dawn,” is an erotic portrait of Belkis, The “War Dance” has a lot of percussion and depicts the dance steps of nearly-naked young warriors, and the final “Orgy Dance” concerns Belkis’ greeting by Solomon’s soldiers. It ends in a deafening audiophile conclusion that has been compared to the final climaxes of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
Again, great hi-res surround (and a decent speaker setup) makes this a most enjoyable sonic experience.