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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Piano Works

Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)
Souvenir d’enfance No. 3 (1857)
Une plaisanterie (1859/60)
Souvenir d’enfance No. 1 Niania et moi (1865)
Impromptu passionné (1859)
La capricieuse (1865)
Rêverie (1865)
En Crimée – Hoursouff. Notes de voyage (1879)
En Crimée – Capriccio (1880)
Méditation. Feuillet d’album (1880)
Au village (1880)
La couturière. Scherzino (1871)
Une larme (1880)
Porte-enseigne-Polka (1852)
Elena Kuschnerova (piano)
Recorded by Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich, December 2000
ORFEO C284021A [72.45]


Elena Kuschnerova was born in Moscow and studied at the Central School of Music with Tatiana Kestner and at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. She’s lived in Germany since 1992 and has made numerous tours, making a number of recordings, from Scarlatti and Bach to Prokofiev of which this Mussorgsky release proves to be a most welcome addition to the catalogue. Pictures at an Exhibition is coupled with the essentially Franco-Germanic inspirations of the Klavierstücke, whilst an admixtures of the Nationalist Russian school provides a welcome dash of colour and vivacity.

Pictures at an Exhibition receives a persuasive interpretation. The opening Promenade starts gently, almost with meditative distraction, before growing in surety and cumulative weight, strong on increasing chordal power. Gnomus is malign and The Old Castle gains through the clarity of the probing left hand accents and some staccato phrasing and the knowingly reduced and tiered dynamics. Bydlo is heavy with its rocking accompaniment. Kuschnerova manages to make the lumbering ox recede into the distance as she reduces volume; the painting seems to pass across our vision as we listen. I liked her silvery articulation in the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks and the unusual delicacy of one side, at least, of Goldenberg and Schmuyle. She takes a fine tempo for Limoges – plenty of digital clarity here – whilst Baba-Yaga sounds quite objectified and not hammed up. The Great Gate of Kiev starts with real elegance and she abjures superficial excitement in favour of a convincing musical statement.

The Klavierstücke are immediately likeable if not necessarily profound. Une plaisanterie adheres strongly to the Schumannesque model, as does Impromptu passionné, though here the limpid trajectory of the lyricism is stronger. En Crimée – Hoursouff. Notes de voyage may sound Lisztian but has a simple folk lilt whereas Méditation. Feuillet d’album, written the year before his death, has some intriguing wandering harmonies amidst its rather Chopinesque patina whilst Au village opens in familiar fashion before embracing richly romantic then friskier folk dance. Mussorgsky’s humorous side can be gauged from La couturière. Scherzino as well as the hijinks of Porte-enseigne-Polka, written when he was a boy, and his ability to spin a line of chaste delicacy from Une larme (1880). There are no great surprises among these small pieces but they make for attractive listening.

Orfeo has provided good notes and the acoustic – from the studios of Bayerischer Rundfunk in Munich – is not at all clinical or cold, rather opening warmly. An attractive and welcome disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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