MUSSORGSKY Complete Piano Works
The popularity of Pictures at an Exhibition continues unabated. Over-exposure has almost certainly dulled our ears to the splendours of this singular work; most online sources list between 150 and 180 recordings currently available of the piano version alone. Unfortunately the ubiquity of Pictures has effectively overshadowed everything else Mussorgsky wrote for the instrument. Given short shrift are some 18 character pieces, dating from 1852, when the composer was 13, to 1881, the year of his death. They range from album leaves, salon pieces and the diptych From Memories of Childhood to travel sketches from his 1879 concert tour and two scenes destined for the unfinished opera The Fair at Sorochintsï. They are sympathetically presented here, along with Pictures, by the Italian pianist Giacomo Scinardo, a native of Paternò, who now teaches at the conservatory of Rovigo in the Veneto.
One inescapable feature of the recording is a big, boomy, unnatural sound throughout the piano’s registers. It’s difficult to say if a poor choice of room, microphone placement or resonance-boosting technology is to blame. Whatever its aetiology, this sound ambience saturates smaller, delicately textured pieces like Rêverie and Une larme, making them seem waterlogged. Meanwhile, more robust, rhythmically punctuated works such as the big C sharp minor Scherzo, the Intermezzo in modo classico or ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ sound as though they are issued from a cavern. One unfortunate result overall is that Scinardo’s already limited dynamic palette and articulation strategies are rendered even more opaque. A lack of rhythmic pliancy robs some folk-inspired elements of spontaneity and abandon, while it lessens the affective intent in lyrical phrasing.
This release will probably hold greatest appeal for completists. If you’re looking for a modern Pictures, you might check out the recordings of Alessio Bax and Steven Osborne.