Musorgsky • Shostakovich
To couple Pictures at an Exhibition with Shostakovich’s relatively early cycle of Preludes, Op. 34 may be unusual. Yet, as Katya Apekisheva points out in her brief foreword in the booklet, Shostakovich admired and was inspired by Musorgsky’s music.
Apekisheva certainly takes nothing for granted and brings several individual touches to Pictures, such as the drawn-out rallentando which ends ‘Bydło’, or making Baba Yaga’s main theme return at a stealthy piano rather than the usual forte. As a whole, though, Apekisheva’s interpretation comes across as over-calculating and deliberate, sounding mannered rather than impulsive and fully engaged with the music’s character and atmosphere: both ‘Baba Yaga’ and ‘Gnomus’ lose their menace when one is all too aware of the art in their portrayal. Freddy Kempf’s Pictures (on BIS) shows greater subtlety and variety of colour and characterisation throughout, yet it’s compellingly impulsive.
Generally Apekisheva is more successful with Shostakovich’s Preludes, though perhaps revealing their kinship more with Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives than with Musorgsky. The virtuosic numbers sparkle, and Apekisheva demonstrates, compared with her Pictures, a more subtle musicianship – evident, for instance, in her use of rubato in the C sharp minor Prelude. But still the result is rather po-faced, particularly when compared to the more puckish impulsiveness of Oleg Marshev, who also builds a greater sense of inexorable threat in the E flat minor Prelude.