WORKS: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Wilbrandt); Exhibitionistic Echoes (from Pictures at an Exhibition), for acoustic instruments and electronic delays
PERFORMER: Modern Sinfonietta/Thomas Wilbrandt
CATALOGUE NO: 436 717-2 DDD
Let the buyer beware! Mussorgsky wrote the Pictures at an Exhibition for piano solo, and it is Ravel’s famous and inspirational orchestration that is still the most frequently played. To try to improve on Ravel’s scoring is rather like touching up the Mona Lisa, but some have tried, including Thomas Wilbrandt, who conducts his version here.
Anyone who buys this in mistake for the Ravel is in for a shock. Wilbrandt uses an orchestra without violins, flutes, trumpets or trombones, but incorporating a mandolin and the ondes martenot. If you can stomach a decidedly down-tempo ‘Gnomus’, some eyebrow-raising portamenti in ‘Tuileries’, a ‘Bydlo’ (Ox-cart) up to its axles in mud, and a solo piano just where all hands need to be on deck to launch ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’, there are intriguing sounds to sample. This should interest students wishing to compare orchestrations. For the rest, the catalogue is brimming with recordings of the familiar Ravel version. Yoel Levi, on Telarc, is impeccable at full price; Solti, on Decca, a safe mid-price recommendation.
Despite Wilbrandt’s resounding reference in his liner-notes to ‘electronic delay-systems used in conjunction with acoustic instruments’, his Exhibitionistic Echoes, based on the Pictures, are really rather ordinary. Wadham Button