Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel); Khovanshchina Prelude (orch. Shostakovich); Night on the Bare Mountain (arr. Rimsky-Korsakov); Gopak from Sorochintsy Fair (orch. Liadov)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel); Khovanshchina Prelude (orch. Shostakovich); Night on the Bare Mountain (arr. Rimsky-Korsakov); Gopak from Sorochintsy Fair (orch. Liadov)
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 468 526-2
Poor old Mussorgsky, doomed to be best known for other musicians’ arrangements of his music. Ravel’s version of Pictures has long eclipsed both the superlative piano original, and many other orchestral transcriptions: it can sound too brash and colourful, but in this live performance, Gergiev persuades the Vienna Philharmonic to sensitivity and discretion. The saxophone solo in ‘The Old Castle’, so often obtrusive, is beautifully smooth and understated, and Gergiev shapes the rubato with complete naturalness. Not that there isn’t virtuosity where it’s needed, in the games of the children in the ‘Tuileries’, the lightness of the ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’, or the chattering women in the ‘Marketplace at Limoges’. Character is subtle, not laid on with a trowel – the pomposity of Samuel Goldenberg and the whinging of Schmuyle don’t descend into caricature, and the ‘Catacombs’ are presented with dignity rather than as a horror side-show. A couple of quibbles about tempo: the ox cart in ‘Bydlo’ is too fast to be really lumbering, and the central chorale in the ‘Great Gate of Kiev’ is on the laid-back side, though the ending is full-toned and magnificently paced. A couple of years ago, I recommended Günter Wand’s integrated approach to the work. In contrast, Gergiev presents a series of finely drawn pictures, and you may prefer his fill-ups, including a vibrant Khovanshchina Prelude, to Wand’s offering of Debussy’s Martyre de St Sébastien. It’s a very close call, and Gergiev provides competition at the highest level, but Wand ultimately convinces me more. Martin Cotton

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