Respighi: Belfagor Overture; Belkis, Queen of Sheba; Church Windows

Vladimir Ashkenazy / Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra

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Respighi: Belfagor Overture; Belkis, Queen of Sheba; Church Windows Review

by Mike D. Brownell

Apart from his so-called Roman Trilogy, much of the music by Ottorino Respighi is mysteriously underrepresented on modern concert stages. Having studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, Respighi was a master orchestrator capable of producing entirely different worlds with his clever use of instrumentation and orchestral color. He was also fascinated by the music of other cultures and other times, which factored into many of his compositions. This Exton hybrid SACD features two such works. The first is the magnificent suite from Belkis, Queen of Sheeba, a ballet that while successful, was far too elaborate and expensive to achieve the long performance run it deserved. The more manageable four-movement suite still boasts an impressively large orchestra complete with sitars, a wind machine, offstage band, and an enormous percussion section. The slightly more familiar Church Windows transports listeners to several religious scenes from the Middle Ages. The program, which begins with the Belfagor Overture, is performed by the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy. From start to finish, the orchestra provides a stunning, vibrant performance replete with sweeping dynamics, technical precision, balanced power, rhythmic intensity, and a true ability to transport the listener to far-off regions. Ashkenazy's vision of Respighi is one of energy and passion. He balances the immense orchestral forces in such a way that the performance never sounds cluttered, and one instrument is never completely drowned out. Exton's sound is likewise impressive, and listeners enjoying the five-channel surround track will feel the power of Respighi's music as if they were sitting on the conductor's podium.

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