MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition RAVEL Miroirs (Donohoe)
If technicolour accounts of Mussorgsky’s Pictures are not your thing, and you wish the pianist wasn’t determined to make the instrument imitate Ravel’s orchestration, Peter Donohoe’s approach may be the one for you. Unlike Andreas Haefliger’s sleepwalking dreamer, his promenader marches purposefully forwards, while the pictures themselves are firmly delineated, neither adding to nor subtracting from the score, except in the slight rushing towards the end of ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’. Free of any superficial gloss, Donohoe’s ‘pictures’ have something of the low-lit icons on display in the dark rooms of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. So don’t expect a Goya-esque ‘Gnomus’, and be prepared for some very literally measured tremolos in ‘Con mortuis in lingua mortua’. Yet along the way rest assured that the gargantuan ‘Bydło’ will shake you to the core.
Colours are suitably more vivid in Donohoe’s Ravel. There is bewildering clarity in the dreaded repeated notes of ‘Alborada’, while the flickers of the night moths of the ‘Noctuelles’ and the loneliness of ‘L’oiseau triste’ are sharply evoked. But compared to the visceral thrills of Bertrand Chamayou, here the ocean of ‘Une barque’ lacks elemental surge and the jester of the ‘del gracioso’ is under-characterised.
Plenty of fine threads tie the pieces on this disc together. Not only are there various direct and indirect connections between the three composers but each piece links music and visual/poetic objects. Messiaen’s exotic-experimental Cantéyodjayâ is a perfect musical realisation of an abstract mosaic, not least in Donohoe’s brightly faceted interpretation, whose chiselled textures and sharply defined lines make this, for me, by some distance the highlight of the disc.