Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition; Night on a Bare Mountain

Gergiev on typically fiery, protean form

Author: 
Edward Greenfield

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition; Night on a Bare Mountain

  • Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Khovanshchina, Prelude, Act 1 (Dawn over the Moscow River)
  • (A) Night on the Bare Mountain
  • (The) Fair at Sorochintsï, 'Sorochinskaya yarmar, Gopak

This is a larger-than-life reading of Mussorgsky’s Pictures, and, as in the all-Russian version under Mark Gorenstein from Chant du Monde that I reviewed earlier this year, the subtleties of colouring introduced by Ravel are underplayed in favour of more earthily Russian flavours. Also, the coupling is an all-Mussorgsky one, surprisingly rare in the many versions of this work.

That said, this new account, recorded live in the Musikvereinsaal in Vienna, brings playing of an altogether finer quality than on the Chant du Monde disc, with fast, brilliant movements dazzlingly well played, and with the speed bringing an edge-of-seat feeling from perils just avoided, something not usually conveyed in a studio performance. The opening ‘Promenade’, taken squarely, establishes the monumental Russian quality, enhanced by the immediacy of the sound. Even the ‘Hut on Fowl’s Legs’ seems larger than life, and the performance culminates in an account of the ‘Great Gate of Kiev’ shattering in its weight and thrust.

That and the all-Mussogsky coupling establish a clear place for this new issue in an over-stocked market, even though the coupling is not generous. The regular Rimsky version of Night on the Bare Mountain, though not recorded live, brings a performance to compare in power with Pictures, with very weighty brass, while Shostakovich’s orchestration of the Khovanshchina Prelude, though less evocative than it can be, is warm and refined, with the Gopak added as a lively encore.

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