WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition; Night on the Bare Mountain; The Destruction of Sennacherib; Salammbô (excerpt); Oedipus in Athens (excerpt); Joshua
PERFORMER: Elena Zaremba (mezzo-soprano) Prague Philharmonic Choir, Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 445 238-2 DDD
Although Rimsky-Korsakov’s glittering arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain continues to hold sway in most present-day concert programmes, Claudio Abbado remains a staunch advocate of the composer’s original and far more audacious conception. This Berlin performance, recorded live in 1993, may lack some of the venom of his earlier recording with the LSO (on RCA), but is nonetheless distinguished by some outstandingly virtuosic playing.
Following this come a number of unaccountably neglected choral works which also featured in the RCA collection. But here the presence of the more authentic Slavic tone of the Prague Philharmonic Chorus is a definite advantage. We have to thank Rimsky-Korsakov for the resuscitation of these works, most of which survived in fragmentary form in versions with piano accompaniment. Of particular distinction are the two Biblical cantatas The Destruction of Sennacherib and Joshua, in which Mussorgsky conveys to perfection the atmosphere of communal defiance in the face of the enemy. Of course, such sharply defined characterisation is seminal to the ubiquitous Pictures at an Exhibition, performed here in the familiar Ravel orchestration. Again, Abbado’s earlier LSO recording for DG was perhaps more involving, though the present version boasts some wonderfully subtle touches, especially in the more reflective movements. Erik Levi