Claire Chevallier gives a controlled performance of Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Meditation

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COMPOSERS: Musorgsky
LABELS: Cypres
ALBUM TITLE: Musorgsky
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition (1874); Meditation (Album Leaf); Intermezzo in modo classico (revised version); Une larme
PERFORMER: Claire Chevallier (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CYP 1675

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Three years ago, Zig-Zag issued an intriguing performance on period instruments of the Ravel orchestration of Musorgsky’s Pictures, conducted by Jos van Immerseel. Now Immerseel’s regular piano duo piano partner, Claire Chevallier, follows suit by giving us an equally absorbing historically-informed account of the composer’s original score. Using an 1875 Becker piano manufactured in St Petersburg, she demonstrates the virtues of performing this masterpiece on a Russian instrument with which Musorgsky would have been completely familiar.

As Chevallier argues in the detailed booklet notes, the idiosyncratic make-up of the Becker, combining an extremely heavy metal frame with a refinement in the hammers more often encountered in French instruments, results in a striking difference in timbre between the deep almost brass-like sound in the bass and a glistening brilliant quality in the treble. These contrasts are most effectively realised in the various ‘Promenade’ movements, all of which sound far more varied in character here than when they are realised on the more bland-sounding modern grand.

Another intriguing feature of the Becker is its huge dynamic range, heard to its best advantage in the bold juxtaposition between Russian orthodox chorale and the triumphant pealing of bells in ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’, and also in the wonderfully controlled diminuendo as the ox-cart trudges off into the distance at the end of ‘Bydlo’.

For the most part, Chevallier’s performance is controlled and musically incisive, the only snags being a slight reluctance to let rip in the more animated movements such as the ‘Market at Limoges’, and a somewhat understated level of malevolence in ‘Gnomus’ and ‘Baba Yaga’.

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Erik Levi