Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel); A Night on the Bare Mountain

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COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: Berlin Classics
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel); A Night on the Bare Mountain
PERFORMER: Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Igor Markevitch
CATALOGUE NO: 0021392 BC
With over 50 versions apiece littering the catalogues already, this ramshackle Berlin Classics issue combining Mussorgsky’s musical gallery visit and depiction of a Witch’s Sabbath can be safely overlooked. Igor Markevitch’s performance of Pictures with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra uses Ravel’s orchestration (almost universal, though versions by Funtek, Gorchakov, Stokowski, Ashkenazy and others are gradually finding their way on to disc), in one of the most tediously repellant accounts of the work I’ve yet encountered.

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A tremulous first trumpet and flatulent brass choir get off to a shaky start in the opening ‘Promenade’; elsewhere string tone is as grindingly abrasive as the tart wind playing is wearisome. There remains the hopelessly unrealistic aural perspective of the recording itself, though Markevitch’s mind-numbing characterisation paints most of these canvasses in drab monochrome anyway. Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain (Rimsky-Korsakov’s completion) goes no better, and again the shrill transfer soon becomes fatiguing. Reliable alternatives abound; Telarc’s premium-priced audiophile versions (the legendary Maazel/Cleveland original plus Yoel Levi’s Atlanta remake including the Kkovanshchina prelude) are both spectacular, though Decca’s mid-priced reissue with Solti and the Chicago Symphony is equally vivid. Finally at budget price, Daniel Nazareth and the Slovak Philharmonic are unmissable on Naxos. Michael Jameson