Mussorgsky: Night on the Bare Mountain; Khovanshchina (excerpts); Scherzo in B flat; Intermezzo symphonique in modo classico; Festive March from Mlada

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COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Night on the Bare Mountain; Khovanshchina (excerpts); Scherzo in B flat; Intermezzo symphonique in modo classico; Festive March from Mlada
PERFORMER: Anatoli Kotcherga (bass), Marianna Tarasova (soprano); Berlin Radio Choir, South Tyrol Children’s Choir, Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: SK 62034
Except for the operas, Mussorgsky on CD equals miscellany, and Abbado’s selection of works is better than most. He begins spectacularly with the vocal Night on the Bare Mountain, slipped into the Gogol-based opera Sorochintsy Fair as the dream of a shepherd boy. The bare choral harmonies and the high-lying tenor lines, clearly intoned here, more than make up for any lack of the instrumental spice so abundant in Rimsky-Korsakov’s deservedly classic orchestral edition, and there’s a bonus of blunt humour in Anatoli Kotcherga’s brief appearance as the laid-back ‘dark god’ who leads the revels.

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Kotcherga repeats a portion of his role on Abbado’s complete Khovanshchina (DG) as part of the rich main course, a ‘selection’ from the opera which hangs together surprisingly well; the focus is on the dark fate that hangs over individuals and the Russian people alike. Abbado’s superbly mobile handling of Mussorgskian drama is enriched by burnished Berlin strings, minutely detailed woodwind solos and handsome sound which complements the rugged sonorities of the Intermezzo especially well. We should be told something about the orchestrations Abbado prefers – Tcherepnin the elder’s, I presume, for Bare Mountain, Shostakovich’s for Khovanshchina; documentation, otherwise good, is silent on the subject. David Nice