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CD Review

Modest Mussorgsky

  • Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)
  • Prélude to "Khovanschina"
  • Night on the Bare Mountain
  • Gopak from "Sorotchinsky Fair"
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Philips 468526-2 52m DDD
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This recording arrived on the same day as I acquired an LP of the same work recorded with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta. Comparing the two revealed certain similarities, especially in the brisk direct Promenades and the ferocious latency prevalent in "Gnomus" and "Samuel Goldenburg and Schmuyle". Gergiev is a master pacer in this great work which never ceases to thrill and he conjures up a heady exotic atmosphere for "Limoges" and the "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks", yet he is properly dour and terribly mysterious in the Catacombs sequence, another personal favourite. The concluding sequences in "Baba Yaga" and the thunderous "Great Gate of Kiev" are magnificent with the VPO playing in a sunlit, brilliant manner all around.

I was not that taken with the couplings though. Gergiev's "Night on the Bare Mountain" is too clinically correct to bear comparison with the wild abandon of Stokowski or Abbado (RCA) and the excerpts from "Khovanschina" and "Sorotchinsky Fair" are nowhere near Svetlanov's legendary Melodiya recordings.

The short playing time is not a turn on either. I do not want to sound snobbish but I believe that from the vast selection of "Pictures" out there, this will not feature very high on the list. I will be sticking to Solti, Giulini and Karajan for my enjoyment in Hartmann's inspiration, and to Svetlanov in the other pieces. The reproductions of Hartmann's paintings in the well annotated booklet might tempt you though!

Copyright © 2002, Gerald Fenech