Mussorgsky, Beethoven

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Mussorgsky
WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Gorchakov); Entr’acte from Khovanshchina
PERFORMER: Peter Ustinov (narrator); Krakow RSO/Karl Anton Rickenbacher
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 82521 2
Well, this is a slightly different way of presenting music to mass audiences, and the major record companies, desperate to improve their sales figures, have nothing to lose. Added to which, of course, Peter Ustinov is a consummate story-teller, and here creates two rather attractive scenarios – Prometheus visiting Beethoven and discussing Napoleon, Mussorgsky drunkenly riling Stasov over the latter’s choice of Hartmann’s pictures. The question is, however, what this approach does to the music. In the case of the Beethoven, a ballet score couched in distinctively separate and not always very distinguished numbers, the answer is little harm. In the case of the Mussorgsky, however – here it’s played in the orchestration of Gorchakov – one is accustomed to a certain continuity that is here disrupted. Neither orchestra is among the world’s finest, but their playing under Karl Anton Rickenbacher is acceptable. Stephen Pettitt