MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition TCHAIKOVSKY Swan Lake
Pictures at an exhibition grace the cover of this Pictures at an Exhibition, the result of a collaboration between Gustavo Dudamel, the Vienna Philharmonic and an El Sistema offshoot in Vienna. As with the vinyl-only account of Mendelssohn’s Scottish (DG), the proceeds here go towards instruments for children in El Sistema proper.
A laudable cause, but not quite so laudable a performance. Oddly, it’s short of the precise characterisation and febrile intensity we expect from Dudamel, traits both of which are also requirements of recommendable Mussorgsky. ‘Il vecchio castello’ has an attractive surface sheen, like the painting of an accomplished student: Valery Gergiev, an old master with the same orchestra, induces shivers at the fear of ghosts. In Dudamel’s ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’, the poultry is rather portly. ‘The Marketplace at Limoges’ bustles along, but not merrily. As for ‘Baba Yaga’, Dudamel takes an absurdist approach, as opposed to Gergiev’s ferociously scary one.
Two-dimensional it all may be – an impression left, too, by boxy sound – but, even so, it’s solid work. The Philharmonic play attractively, although they seem unsure whether to turn to showpiece mode or to go for something deeper. Tchaikovsky springs to mind throughout; hence the encore, I suppose, a charming sashay through the Waltz from Swan Lake, the strings swung in that wonderful Viennese way. The other filler is no more imaginative: Night on the Bare Mountain, in crisper focus than the Pictures, if still routine.