Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: Gega New
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition
PERFORMER: Ivo Varbanov (piano)
Both Demidenko and Varbanov appear to have studied the original manuscript of Pictures at an Exhibition. They start ‘Bydlo’ fortissimo, as Mussorgsky intended, and avoid the inaccuracies which have crept into the most readily available printed editions. Their interpretations, though, differ in many respects. Demidenko enters the gallery with a spring in his step; Varbanov trudges in with heavy-footed doggedness. Demidenko’s ‘Gnomus’ is over-pedalled and lacks Varbanov’s biting clarity, but he lingers lovingly before ‘The Old Castle’, while Varbanov can hardly wait to move on to ‘Tuileries’, which they both play enchantingly.

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Demidenko scores slightly over Varbanov with his atmospheric shimmering in the ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’, while the rich and poor Jews receive powerful characterisations from both of them. In ‘Baba-Yaga’ I find Demidenko’s rhythmic liberties less convincing than Varbanov’s strict adherence to the pulse. Both interpretations are perfectly valid, but, all in all, Demidenko’s is the subtler, Varbanov’s the more straightforward.

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Demidenko’s generous coupling consists of music by Prokofiev – a pleasing account of the Romeo and Juliet pieces and a brittle Toccata. Varbanov offers more Mussorgsky, including A Night on the Bare Mountain. Wadham Sutton