The history of Liszt’s first Piano Concerto is a convoluted one.
Sketched out in 1832 but only orchestrated in 1849 and revised
in 1853 and 1856 before publication in 1857. It is in a novel
form with all the movements linked by several themes. The inclusion
of the triangle caused the critic Hanslick to describe it as a
is a ‘live’ performance by the, then, 14 year old Peng Peng.
It opens strongly with an orchestral tutti leading to
the first piano entry, played confidently and with great aplomb.
This young player can negotiate the fiendish writing for the
piano with an easy confidence which one only finds in the young.
He plays the loud passages with a force belying his age, but
also plays the quiet lyrical sections with great delicacy and
feeling. Orchestra and conductor offer solid support.
Pictures at an Exhibition is not the usual Ravel orchestration
of 1922, but a selection of movements from some of the more
than 30 orchestral arrangements of this famous piano work: see
the list at the end on this article. Leonard Slatkin has performed
this musicological ‘game’ at two Henry Wood Promenade concerts
in London; the first in 1991 and the second in 2004. For those who
heard these on the BBC, this is a recording of the 2004 selection,
with the exception of the first promenade, which was then by
Byrwec Ellison, but here by D. Wilson Ochoa. It is interesting
listening to these arrangements how some composers are faithful
to the score and spirit of the pieces, and others who are almost
cavalier in their treatment.
first Promenade has an air of expectancy and almost suppressed
excitement beginning with the woodwind and including pizzicato
strings, reserving the brass for the last statement of the theme.
Gnomus (orch. Sergey Gorchakov,
is the only Soviet representative and it is a relatively straightforward
rendition, keeping the repeat identical to the first statement
where Ravel employs some elaboration.
Promenade 2 (orch. Walter Goehr, 1942)
This arrangement is for a smaller orchestra so this promenade
features solo strings, woodwind and brass.
Il vecchio castello (orch. Emile Naoumoff,
1974) This is one of the pictures where the arranger has taken
liberties and it is scored for piano and orchestra. The theme
has been given to a variety of instruments in the various arrangements
for this lilting Italian sicilienne
(alto saxophone (Ravel), cor anglais (Stokowski) or muted trumpet
(Gorchakov). Here the alto flute launches the melody; but the
real fascination comes with the imitative, canonic lines added
for solo piano. In this recording the piano is somewhat distant,
sounding like an echo, which suits it well, unlike at the Prom
performance where it was so prominent it just sounded bizarre
– as if the pianist couldn’t count the bars!
Promenade 3 – Tuileries
(orch. Geert van Keulen,
1992) The previous dreamy picture is interrupted by this masculine
promenade, pulling the listener out of the reverie. Then into
the Tuileries with the woodwind very much in their element as
the chattering children.
Bydlo (orch. Vladimir Ashkenazy,
1982) The Polish ox cart thunders into view and Ashkenazy makes his impact
with four horns in full throated unison emphasizing the tread
of the ox labouring to draw its load.
Promenade 4 (orch. Carl Simpson, 1997)
A very conventional minor mode rendition of the promenade.
Ballet of the Unhatched
Lucien Cailliet, 1937) this is treated very exuberantly,
with woodblock, rattle and a flutter-tonguing blast from the
Two Polish Jews, One Rich,
One Poor (orch.
Henry Wood, 1915) Henry Wood withdrew his arrangement after
he had heard Ravel’s. The rich Jew is grand and
well-upholstered in the piano version, as he is here, with fortissimo
double basses and lower woodwind; the poor Jew is trembling
or stammering rather than whining as in Ravel’s unforgettable
solo for muted trumpet.
Promenade 5 (orch. Lawrence Leonard,
1977) This Promenade was left out by Ravel and is at the halfway
point. This arrangement for piano and orchestra
made in 1975, 16 years before Naoumoff’s, is refreshingly original
in its orchestral colours.
Limoges. Le marché (orch. Leo Funtek, 1922)
This is very much in the same vein as Ravel with the addition
of a glittering battery of percussion.
Catacombae (orch. John Boyd, 1986)
This arrangement embodies the Grand Guignol horror of the Catacombs,
which leads into the next picture:
mortuis in lingua mortua (orch. Maurice Ravel, 1922) No one has captured this in quite
the same way as Ravel and it is fitting that he is represented
by one of his best arrangements.
The Hut on Hen’s Legs (orch. Leopold Stokowski,
1939) In this arrangement, Stokowski takes liberties with the
score and the four trumpets and eight horns seem to have wandered
in from another piece; he does very much his own thing. All
The Great Gate at Kiev
(orch. Douglas Gamley,
1980) It is difficult to find a final movement which can match,
or even surpass that of Ravel, but here is one by Douglas Gamley who throws
several ‘extras’ into the mix, a peel of bells, a chorus and
organ to deal with the ‘church melody’ and, plenty of bells
at the end for this most Russian of finales.
playing of these arrangements is very polished as one would
expect from this quarter and the engineers have captured this
‘live’ event with remarkable clarity. This is an interesting
collection and throws into relief how diverse the arrangements
are. It also whets the appetite to hear some of these arrangements
in their entirety; and gives us a useful ‘party game’ playing
familiar music in an unfamiliar guise.
arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner came in response
to a commission from the National Symphony Orchestra under the
conductor Leonard Slatkin. It takes the form of a eulogy on the
tragedy of 9/11, but is not in any way tragic, it has a confidence
and optimism which could only come from the American people.
see also Review
by Ian Lace
Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition - other arrangements:
* Mikhail Tushmalov (ca. 1886; three “pictures” and four Promenades
Henry Wood (1915; four Promenades omitted)
Leo Funtek (1922; all Promenades included)
Maurice Ravel (1922; the fifth Promenade omitted)
Giuseppe Becce (1922; for “salon-orchestra”)
* Leonidas Leonardi (1924)
Lucien Cailliet (1937)
Leopold Stokowski (1939; Tuileries, fifth Promenade and Limoges
Walter Goehr (1942; Gnomus omitted; includes a subsidiary part
Sergei Gorchakov (1954)
Daniel Walter (1959)
Helmut Brandenburg (ca. 1970)
Emile Naoumoff (ca. 1974, for piano and orchestra)
Zdenek Macal (ca. 1977)
Lawrence Leonard (1977; in concerto style for piano and orchestra)
Douglas Gamley (1980)
Vladimir Ashkenazy (1982)
* Pung Siu-Wen (ca. 1983; for orchestra of Chinese instruments)
John Boyd (1986)
Alan Gout (1990; for chamber orchestra)
Thomas Wilbrandt (1992)
Geert van Keulen (1992
Djong Victorin Yu (1993; amended Ravel version)
Byrwec Ellison (1995)
Mekong Delta (1997; for group and orchestra)
Carl Simpson (1997)
Julian Yu (2002; for chamber orchestra)
Michael Allen (2007)
Hanspeter Gmur (date unknown)
Hidemaro Konoye (date unknown)
Misao Kitazume (date unknown)