Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Night on the Bare Mountain,

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COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition; Night on the Bare Mountain,
PERFORMER: Brigitte Engerer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMA 1951266 Reissue (1988)
Sergei Dukachev’s performance of Pictures at an Exhibition comes from a mixed recital given in the University of London Music Department at Royal Holloway College. Dukachev’s account of Beethoven’s Appassionata is seriously underpedalled (this is a piece in which the whole piano needs to vibrate), with a curiously spiky account of the slow movement’s third variation, and a rather accident-prone finale. Much better are Debussy’s Estampes, and Pictures, in which Mussorgsky’s character-studies are quite vividly conveyed. However, the recorded sound is gruff, and ambience has been brutally cut at the end of items in order to avoid applause. If you can tolerate poor sound you would do far better to turn to Sviatoslav Richter’s spellbinding 1958 Sofia performance. The eeriness of Richter’s ‘Gnomus’, the delicacy of his ‘Unhatched chicks’, the mystery of ‘Cum mortuis’ and the savagery of ‘Baba-Yaga’ have never been surpassed.

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Brigitte Engerer’s all-Mussorgsky disc was first issued in 1988. Besides Pictures, it contains a reconstruction of what the composer’s piano version of Night on the Bare Mountain might have been like, and a selection of shorter pieces. Engerer captures the grotesquerie of ‘Gnomus’ admirably, and is appropriately light-fingered in ‘Tuileries’; but her ‘Bydlo’ is not heavy enough to convey the weight and strain of the ox-cart, and the bells of the ‘Great Gate of Kiev’ are insufficiently sonorous. (For the latter deficiency the dry studio acoustic may be to blame.) For a modern, well recorded version of Pictures, Alfred Brendel (Philips) is strongly recommended; but that Richter performance remains a unique experience. Misha Donat