MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition RACHMANINOV Moments musicaux
Collectors familiar with Jean-Philippe Collard’s excellent EMI Rachmaninov recordings will be pleased to see the pianist return to the composer. Collard shares with his erstwhile associate Vladimir Horowitz the gift for shaping Rachmaninov’s labyrinthine lines to three-dimensional effect while, at the same time, bringing an incisive edge to rapid passagework that casts the thick textures in a gaunt, acerbic light. Take the second of the Moments musicaux, for example, where Collard’s melodic tapering is offset by the heightened left-hand clarity. The ‘Dies irae’-inspired No 3 emerges more colourfully and dynamically generous compared to Collard’s earlier EMI traversal, but that may be due to La Dolce Volta’s more robust recorded sound. While the pianist captures the full measure of the Fourth and Sixth selections’ swirling bravura, he seems more emotionally connected to No 5’s lyrical deliberation.
According to the booklet notes, Collard resists the temptation to emend the plain-spoken yet effective piano-writing in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Yet time and again he pulls focus from the gravitas of the composer’s steady tempos by imposing tiny tenutos or by pushing a phrase ahead in minuscule increments. As a result, the cumulative impact of the assymetrical phrase lengths of the ‘Promenades’ slackens, as does the hypnotic pull of repeated-note ostinatos of ‘The Old Castle’ or the steady and relentlessly grinding accompaniment in ‘Bydło’. Why the affettuoso approach to the fourth ‘Promenade’ or the low-energy ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle’? The ‘Limoges’ marketplace customers amble about on cruise control, rather than bustle with nervous energy à la Yefim Bronfman, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Sviatoslav Richter. However, Collard plays the final two movements full-out, giving in to Viktor Hartmann’s powerful imagery through fulfillingly sonorous means. If only the rest of the performance had been on this level! As usual, La Dolce Volta offers multilingual annotations and lavish graphics.