Pictures Reframed – Pictures at an Exhibition & Kinderszenen

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Musorgsky,Schumann
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; From Memories of Childhood; Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op. 15
PERFORMER: Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 698 3602

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This CD is the by-product of a novel stratagem, in which a performance of Musorgsky’s Pictures is accompanied by moving images by South African artist Robin Rhode – bringing the music back to its visual-art origins. A DVD is due to be released of this, but on plain CD the music must paint its own pictures. Leif Ove Andsnes has joined the army of pianists who have added embellishments to amplify what they regard as the composer’s only half-executed intention: here this means tremolos in ‘Catacombs’ and at the climax of ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’, whose final chord, as originally written, starts decaying as soon as it has sounded. Ever since Horowitz’s piano ‘re-orchestration’, this has been common practice among pianists.

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Andsnes’s performance adopts at many points a coolly conversational tone, and an emotional restraint which works well in the promenades but can leave the pictures themselves shorn of their poetry. I have never heard such heavy-footed chicks for the fifth picture, nor have I known the Limoges marketplace so bereft of hustle and bustle. The catacombs are not spooky enough, and there’s none of the boiling excitement one wants with ‘Baba Yaga’. Andsnes certainly vindicates his extra tremolos in the ‘Great Gate’ picture, but even here his performance has none of the majesty which Ivo Pogorelich so memorably created in his 1995 DG recording. From Memories of Childhood emerges as a pleasant sequence of salon trifles, and the performance of the Schumann is, if graceful, for my taste too cool. Michael Church