PORTS OF CALL -- Works of Chabrier, Sibelius, Ibert, Alfvén, Borodin, Smetana and Tchaikovsky
Minnesota Orchestra/Eiji Oue, cond.
Reference Recordings RR-80 (F) (DDD) TT: 76:03

Eiji Oue (that's "AY-jee OH-way") leads the Minnesota Orchestra in another potpourri CD for hi-end Reference Recordings, encoded two years ago in Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall. Earlier, RR-71 offered Exotic Dances from the Opera, while RR-79 appended music by Debussy, Chabrier, Schumann and Ravel to the last-named composer's orchestral transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The orchestra retains its sleekness under the efficient, still-young Oue, Hiroshima-born and a pupil of the same Hideo Saito who was Ozawa's sensei, although Ref-Rec—how to say this?—has recorded them at some distance, as if suspended somewhere between the main-floor and ceiling. Let me add, however, that my system doesn't (by choice) have "surround sound," or special hardware to reproduce the "High Definition Compatible Digital" process Ref-Rec uses. If I still cherish the sound that Aubord and Nickrenz recorded for Vox, not only in Minneapolis but in St. Louis and Cincinnati, that was in the dear dead days of analog.

To the business at hand, beginning with Chabrier's España Rhapsody and ending with Tchaikovsky's Capriccio italien, Oue and his orchestra since 1995 visit Finlandia, then the Mediterranean of Ibert's Escales (which gives the collection its title), then return to Scandinavia for Swedish Hugo Alfvén's Midsummer Vigil (Revel would be an apter noun), after that head for The Steppes of Central Asia explored by Borodin, and scull in Smetana's The Moldau (sure'n this isn't Vltava) before joining Tchaikovsky's holiday tour in Italy. On balance, unexpectedly, Sibelius receives the most characterful performance. The rest, though, is mostly generic music-making, of the kind that needs a score to differentiate Chabrier's Aragon from Ibert's Valencia, the final port of call. Oue misses that distinction, and numerous others across the map. A handsome program insert has Music Appreciation-type annotations by Twin Cities' veteran Mary Ann Feldman —knowledgeable but gushy.

R.D. (NOV. 1999)