Mussorgsky Pictures; Stravinsky Petrushka
Abbado's splendid Petrushka was among the very first CDs to be reviewed in these pages. Robert Layton extended a warm welcome in March 1983. The fact that it appeared with no coupling didn't seem to bother him unduly at the time; I've no doubt that it would today. Wisely, then, DG have now come up with this infinitely more generous option. Soundwise, one might gripe that the top is a little over-scrutinized in both instances, but that apart, these vivid DG productions are still sounding remarkably well. Both readings are among the finest currently before us—vividly, imaginatively characterized, shining examples of Abbado's best work with the LSO. The Petrushka is full of sensitive and dramatic detail: I don't know of a more intense account of the poignant scene in Petrushka's tiny backstage 'cell'—all shadow and nervous apprehensiveness. Nor have we seen any more clearly into the elaborate texturing of the outer tableaux (this is the more lavishly scored original version); the tactility of the inner-part writing is constantly arresting.
These Pictures, too, wear well. Pristine, I would say. If ever a performance came off the canvas, this one does. Still vivid as I write is the attack of venomous strings in ''Gnomus''; a ''Samuel Goldenberg'' of monstrous self-importance beautifully contrasted with the squeakiest of ''Schmuyle''s; and a frenetic Limoges market, the busiest I've ever encountered it. One ugly edit in ''Catacombs'' still jars, but Baba-Yaga quickly jolts that from the memory. Outstanding.'