Gustavo Dudamel conducts Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and A Night on Bare Mountain, and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Waltz

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COMPOSERS: Musorgsky,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Musorgsky * Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel); A Night on Bare Mountain (arr. Rimsky-Korsakov); Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake – Waltz
PERFORMER: Vienna Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel

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Eight years after he conducted a blistering rendition of Pictures at an Exhibition with the Simon Bolívar Orchestra, recorded live on DVD at the Salzburg Festival, Gustavo Dudamel conjures up an equally fine performance of this orchestral showpiece from the Vienna Philharmonic. Whereas in Salzburg, Dudamel goes for broke with his youthful players, for example cajoling them to play ‘The Market at Limoges’ at an astonishingly breakneck speed, this Vienna performance seems more measured, taking full account of the Vienna Philharmonic’s rich wind and brass timbres, captured here with splendid immediacy in the Musikverein.

Dudamel’s interpretation is relatively straightforward. As one might expect, he is particularly effective at establishing the appropriate character and atmosphere for each of the individual movements, from the weary tread of the ‘Bydlo’ and the introverted melancholy of ‘The Old Castle’ to the grotesquerie of ‘The Gnome’ and ‘Baba-Yaga’ and playfulness of ‘the ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’. The orchestra responds incisively to his demands, the only noticeable problem coming in the first bars of ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ where the upper trumpet melodic line is momentarily obscured.

Following on from Pictures, Dudamel presents a suitably volatile account of Night on a Bare Mountain in the Rimsky-Korsakov arrangement, and the orchestra brings a delightful Viennese lilt to the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. At just under 51 minutes duration, however, this release offers relatively short measure and is perhaps only a must for Dudamel’s many devotees. If an outstanding account of Pictures is your main priority, I would opt for the 1994 Berlin Philharmonic performance under Dudamel’s mentor Claudio Abbado, also on DG, which presents a much more interesting programme of Musorgsky rarities, including the original and much more daring version of A Night on Bare Mountain.

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Erik Levi