Musorgsky • Serebrier

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Musorgsky • Serebrier
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: A Night on Bare Mountain (arr. Stokowski); Pictures at an Exhibition (arr. Stokowski) • Symphony No. 3 (Symphonie Mystique); plus works by Wagner and Bizet
PERFORMER: Carole Farley (soprano); National Youth Orchestra of Spain/José Serebrier
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 2.110230 (NTSC system; PCM stereo; 16:9 picture format)

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José Serebrier has already recorded the two main works here in CD format, but it’s interesting to check the extra sense of edge and immediacy given by this live concert in Chester Cathedral and, in the case of the Musorgsky Pictures, to watch first-hand what Stokowski is doing with the instrumentation.

Stokowski’s aim was avowedly to provide a ‘more Russian’ sound than Ravel’s famous orchestration, and certainly his Pictures has stronger post-echoes of, say, the sound-world of Boris Godunov than Ravel’s generally more sumptuous redaction. It’s given a bold, arrestingly colourful performance by these fine young Spanish musicians.

Serebrier’s own Third Symphony is for strings only, excepting a brief vocalise at the conclusion. The opening movement, propulsively rhythmic and spikily syncopated, certainly puts the players through their paces, testing pulse and pitching within sections via some effectively divided string writing.

The other three movements are all slow, and despite some magical episodes (there’s a beautiful solo for the excellent concertmaster) the lack of variety is a potential difficulty.

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A pity too, especially given the grand, multi-hued palette of the Musorgsky, that the disc doesn’t include a 5.1 surround mix of the recording. The conventional stereo provided is perfectly satisfactory, neatly focusing the potentially awkward cathedral acoustic, although the warmly affectionate performance of Wagner’s Meistersinger Prelude which opens the concert is, oddly, somewhat flatter in perspective. Terry Blain