Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

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COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition
PERFORMER: Noriko Ogawa (piano)
Why is it that the winners of the third prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition are often so supremely talented? That was the prize Noriko Ogawa won in 1987, and she’s a true virtuoso, prodigiously endowed with all the accoutrements such a description demands – awesome technique, a strong sense of structure, balance and atmosphere, and the ability to send an audience away inspired and fulfilled.


She plays the operatic excerpts on this disc from the piano scores Mussorgsky produced prior to orchestration. It takes some doing to sustain the impact of Godunov’s 8:41-minute Coronation Scene, with its varying moods and cumulative effect, on a solo piano. But Ogawa does it, naturally and brilliantly. She gives just the right degree of emphasis to the melody line in the Khovanshchina Prelude, and is variously languid and lively in the pieces from Sorochintsy Fair.


Any composer who can head a score Allegro giusto, nel modo russico; senza allegrezza, ma poco sostenuto knows exactly what he wants, and Ogawa plays the Pictures at an Exhibition from Mussorgsky’s manuscript. The differences between this and the available printed editions are minimal, the most important being that ‘Bydlo’ starts fortissimo (the usual indication, piano, was a misreading by Rimsky-Korsakov which found its way into Ravel’s orchestral version). There’s some light left-hand staccato in the ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’ and a surprise chromatic chord at 4:44 mins in ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’. Otherwise everything is much as expected. The miracle is Ogawa’s handling of this music – the hypnotic quality of ‘Il vecchio Castello’, the delicate traceries in ‘Goldenberg und Schmuyle’, the cheerful bustle of ‘Limoges’. A really impressive achievement.