Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Dream of the Peasant Gritzko; Introduction and Galitsin’s Journey from Khovanshchina

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COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: Delos
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition; Dream of the Peasant Gritzko; Introduction and Galitsin’s Journey from Khovanshchina
PERFORMER: Clayton Brainerd (bass-baritone)Westminster Symphonic Choir, New Jersey SO/Zdenek Mácal
CATALOGUE NO: DE 3217
‘Heaven and Hell’ trumpets the cover of ZdeneŠk Mácal’s recording of Ravel’s orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition and two other Mussorgsky items orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov. Presumably Hell is the Peasant Gritzko’s dream of a Witches Sabbath, a choral enhancement of ‘Night on the Bare Mountain’ from Sorochintsy Fair. Though played with undoubted verve, the chorus is much less focused than in Polyansky’s excellent performance on Chandos. Nor is Heaven to be found in Mácal’s version of Pictures in which an over-resonant acoustic and some stolid orchestral playing, notwithstanding creamy string sound, result in a lack of profile in such vivid music. The ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’ is earthbound and the ‘Dialogue of Goldenberg and Schmuyle’ mechanical.

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Polyansky, if a little quirky, almost always brings the pictures to life. Throughout there is a strong thread, a clear understanding of the close proximity of menace and hilarity which give these astonishing pieces their fascination. Jan Smaczny