Musorgsky, Stokowski, Tchaikovsky

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Musorgsky,Stokowski,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Pictures at an Exhibition
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/José Serebrier
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557645
Four Stokowski-arranged Pictures in the current catalogue are perhaps more than this ingenious oddball deserves, especially since he ditched Musorgsky’s two French-titled sketches on the bizarre suspicion that they were composed by Rimsky-Korsakov. But at least three of the recordings have a special imprimatur. Stokowski himself leaps to vivid life through 78rpm sound; and now former Stokowski assistant José Serebrier follows the example of a supersonic Cleveland version conducted by that highly imaginative sound-master Oliver Knussen (DG, reviewed June 2004). Serebrier’s own imposing, heavyweight style yields different results to the volatile Knussen – whose full-throttle ‘Baba-Yaga’ is second to none – but it’s always absorbing. Something of the Stokowski sound is filtered through the refined texturing of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and further enhanced by the spacious concert-hall acoustic.

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Stokowski’s Night on the Bare Mountain with its snarling muted brass and outlandish string glissandi outdoes the Rimsky-Korsakov version, itself preferable to Musorgsky’s fitfully brilliant original. Perhaps more surprising is the Boris Godunov synthesis, a poetic tapestry of onlookers’ choruses, songs and chants for orchestra which wisely avoids histrionic plums.

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Serebrier does score over Knussen by including three delightful Stokowski lollipops; the arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s piano-miniature Humoresque shows what Stravinsky left out in adapting it for his ballet The Fairy’s Kiss and reveals a delicacy in Stokowski the arranger usually overlooked. Even for that alone, it might be worth buying this very stylish bargain. David Nice