Mussorgsky’s Pictures were originally composed for the
piano. In that form he created a spacious canvas necessitating
something of a symphonic sound from the piano. This proved exquisitely
demanding and only a few brave pianists, including Prokofiev,
dared to scale its fearsome crags. Maurice Ravel, to whom we owe
its renown, was paid 10,000 francs to orchestrate it for Serge
Koussevitzky. But as one might look at and interpret a picture
in many different ways so then different sonic paint brushes might
offer alternative views and insights? Thus Leonard Slatkin’s notion
to bring together an eclectic selection of arrangements, some
quite outlandish, might seem fresh and appealing?
Wilson-Ochoa is the Nashville Symphony’s Principal Music Librarian
and former horn player. His neat opening ‘Promenade’  was
arranged, using woodwinds, at first, then pizzicato strings.
This walking bass/cello line leads into the orchestral build-up,
to give the impression of the visitor arriving at the gallery
with mounting excitement and anticipation of seeing its treasures.
Sergey Gorchakov’s portrait of Gnomus  is simpler,
more sober and menacing than Ravel’s; his colours darker. Walter
Goehr’s ‘Promenade’  is calmly introspective as the visitor
passes thoughtfully on; it features sensitive use of solo strings,
double woodwind and muted brass. Emile Naoumoff’s entrancing
arrangement of Il vecchio castello  has, at its heart,
a glistening piano solo with woodwinds and cellos sounding the
lilting Italian Sicilienne – absolutely gorgeous. Van
Keulen’s ‘Promenade’  is a much grander walk while his Tuileries
 is a perky arrangement full of childish mischief and high
spirits. Wind and brass are delicately mixed - woodwinds supported
by muted trombones and trumpet – to create an appealing pastel.
Conductor/pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy makes an impact with four
horns in unison. Low strings and heavy percussion are used to
underline the heaviness of Bydlo his picture of the Polish
cart on enormous wheels .
Simpson’s ‘Promenade’  is brief and straightforward but with
an unexpected cheeky cheep anticipating – Ballet of the unhatched
chicks . Lucien Cailliet was a student of Vincent D’Indy,
His arrangement exerts his imaginative faculties to the full,
out Ravel-ing Ravel. He makes exuberant use of wood-block, rattle
and a flutter-tonguing blast from the trumpet. Sir Henry Wood’s
vision of the Two Jews …  markedly underlines
the differences between the two: the rich one glowering and
overwhelming and the cowering pauper. The next ‘Promenade’ 
(and the one that Ravel left out) is by Lawrence Leonard. It’s
grand too , in terms of its rich harmonies and orchestrations;
carrying on the self-regarded magnificence - one might say -
of the rich Jew. Leo Funtek’s picture of French women arguing
around a market square in Limoges, Le marché  makes
for a snappy riot of colour. Funtek surmounts its challenges
of articulation through its brief 1:26 of presto writing.
The Catacombae  of John Boyd, demonstrates his experience
with wind, brass and percussion. It is a haunted subterranean
vision and is more menacing than Ravel’s portrait. It leads
seamlessly into Ravel’s own arrangement of Con mortuis in
lingua mortua . As David Nice says, “the French
master’s subtle halos and shadows remain uniquely evocative.’
That wonderful orchestrator, Leopold Stokowski, adds his characteristically
vivid colouring to The hut on fowl’s legs (Baba-Yaga)
. This is a satanic portrait using four trumpets and eight
horns supported by shrill whistling upper woods, to evoke Baba-Yaga’s
concluding The Bogatyr Gate at Kiev  is the most
substantial picture. Douglas Gamley paints this massive gate
in resplendent colours using to fine effect the chorus of the
Nashville Symphony and an organ. What magnificence - magnificence
to rival 1812!
first surviving piano concerto was sketched out in 1832, when
the composer was 21. It was only orchestrated 17 years later,
with the help of the young composer Joachim Raff. Its first
performance in 1853 at Weimar was conducted by Berlioz. Revisions
followed in 1857. Its three movements are cyclically connected.
This striking live recording of Peng Peng’s articulate and polished
reading is sturdy in the portentous episodes and sensitively
shaded in the quieter and more introspective passages. Slatkin
gives sterling support.
Mathes’s arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner was
commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra under its conductor
Leonard Slatkin. It was conceived as a eulogy on the tragedy
of 9/11. This performance - part grandiloquent, part restrained
- is affecting.
of the familiar Ravel orchestrations of Mussorgsky’s Pictures
here is an eclectic collection of alternatives, always colourful
and often arresting.