Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Musorgsky
LABELS: RCO Live
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: RCO 09004 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Much as a fine live performance may deserve to stand by itself, prospective buyers may wonder why they should fork out for a disc only 33 minutes long. Mariss Jansons may think he’s giving good value for money by adding liberal percussion parts to Ravel’s orchestration from the sixth picture onwards. But that’s unnecessary and even obstructive down in the Catacombs, where those terrifying brass choruses need to resound unsupported.

More to the point are the conductor’s adaptation of dynamics and phrasing, starting with the most powerful of all nutcracker gnomes, more an ogre in seven league boots; curious, then, that Jansons doesn’t amend Ravel’s several misreadings (from using the Rimsky-Korsakov edition of Musorgsky’s piano original). There’s plenty of character, and deft woodwind adept as fast-moving Parisian kids and squabbling chicks.

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Yet overall the effect is smoother, less bright, than Jansons’s less adorned Oslo performance, my first choice on Radio 3’s Building a Library. And this is still almost twice the price of Naxos’s fine Ukrainian Pictures, with Theodore Kuchar also giving us two Nights on a Bare Mountain and two orchestral pieces into the bargain. David Nice