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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibitiona (1874) [29'35] (orch. Ravel, 29'47b).
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Etude in F, Op.10 No. 8c (1829-32) [1'37] ; Waltz in No. 3 in A minor, Op. 34 No. 2c (1831) [4'50].
Byron Janisac (piano)
bMinneapolis Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati
From acSR90305, bSE90217. Rec. aStudio A, Fine Recording, New York on September 25th-29th, 1961, bNorthrop Auditorium, Minneapolis, on April 21st, 1959, cMoscow on June 11th, 1962. ADD
MERCURY LIVING PRESENCE SACD 475 6620 [66'20]


A lovely idea. The piano and the orchestral versions of Pictures, separated by some aural balm, a couple of short Chopin pieces, expertly dispatched. Wonderful, also, to experience again the art of Byron Janis. A Horowitz pupil, he was a major pianist for a while, as his Rachmaninov in this same series reminded us (welcomed by myself last year: review ).

Janis's Pictures begin hewn out of granite. The piano sound is up-front and best described as 'pingy' - it can even be harsh at times. There is a slight dryness too to the recording that mirrors Janis's own playing; try especially 'Tuileries' and its neighbour, 'Bydlo'. His pedalling is sparse, leaving one to gasp at his finger strength and his accuracy. Yet he can create velvet sonorities when he wants ('Gnomus') and contrasting delicacy (the 'middle' Promenade; track 8 here). Sparks fly off his accents in the Limoges market-place; interestingly, the chattering of the old women here seems to have a somewhat malicious intent. One can hear the metallic 'clang' of the piano's lower strings in 'Goldberg and Schmuyle' – the latter seem to lead to the grinding dissonances of 'The hut on Fowl's Legs'. Unfortunately, despite lovely, round, balanced chording at the beginning of 'The Great Gate', this concluding picture does not act as a culmination of what preceded it. For that - and for an edge-of-the-seat ride all round - one needs to go to Richter's 1958 Sofia performance on Philips 50 464 734-2. The Janis is a performance of niceties, of acutely judged nuances set against occasional showers of sparks.

The two Chopin items act as a wonderful resting point and contain some of Janis's best playing, particularly the wonderfully suave Waltz; what gorgeous shading of line there is here!

The orchestral Pictures is sonically fascinating. If the opening trumpet is rather tinny, just listen to the depth and luxuriance of the strings! 'Up-front' is again the term that comes to mind with the recording, but here it seems to work better – one can hear how much the lower strings dig in to their fast figures that launch 'Gnomus'. Woodwind chase each other infectiously in the 'Tuileries', and everyone is on fantastic form for the 'Ballet of the Chicks'. But if it is hi-fi demonstration you are after, that Hut on Fowl's Legs is keen to oblige, as is the - here positively climactic - Great Gate.

A very interesting disc indeed.

 

Colin Clarke

 

 



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