Collection - Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra - Sascha Goetzel

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Onyx Classics - 4048

Something completely unexpected from the Onyx label comes to us in January 2010 and kicks off the new year with a bang. It is a collection of three brilliant orchestral fireworks which are presented together on this CD because they all share links to famous women from Arabian or Persian lore and legends. All three pieces use melodies from ancient oriental songs and old Arabic harmonic sources to create a musical sound world very much like the famous Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov.

The very first strands of Belkis, Queen of Sheba by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936), will transport you to ancient Persia with its rhythms and modes so typical of the land. It was primarily written as a ballet which included a choir, offstage brass, a narrator, wind machine, various exotic instruments and involved almost a thousand performers. It would be great if someone recorded the original score one day. What we have here is the condensed orchestral suite that Respighi completed a few years later. It is an orchestral tour de force that will put any sound system to the test and also put your neighbours patience to the test. It's full of exotic melodies and orchestral colors that evoke vivid images of ancient times. Some of it is charming and some is exhilarating. The 'War Dance' movement for example, with its wide array of percussion instruments, demands a combination of pinpoint accuracy and complete abandon in order to convey its wild frenzy. If you have heard the 'Roman Trilogy' by this composer, you know what he is capable of. The last movement, the 'Orgiastic Dance' was once described as "a deafening tumult of sound and a paroxysm of rhythm". If a piece ever deserved to be coined an orchestral showpiece, this is it.

The other two works on this recording, the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Weber by the German composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), and the Tragedy of Salome by the French composer Florent Schmitt (1870-1958), might not display the same panache and emotional exuberance as the Respighi, but both contain very memorable and evocative segments full of orchestral color that paint a convincing portrait of the character or story at hand. Igor Stravinsky himself had once remarked that the 'Tragedy of Salome' was an orchestral masterpiece. Not surprising when you consider that its orchestration is very similar to the sound of Rimsky-Korsakov, who had been a teacher to Stravinsky.

This is the debut recording of the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra and their Austrian conductor Sascha Goetzel. A very impressive beginning by any standards. This year, Istanbul is the European Capital of Culture 2010, and this amazing recording is a great way to introduce this great orchestra to the rest of the world. I have a feeling we will hear much more from this group in the years to come. For now, just bathe in the luxurious and sumptuous oceans of sound that they produce within these wonderful 20th century orchestral masterpieces.

Jean-Yves Duperron