Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition orch. Sergei Gorchakov [33.51]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No 1 in D major, Op.25 Classical [14.12]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Kurt Masur
rec. Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Aldeburgh, December 1990
WARNER APEX 2564 65938-9 [48.03]
I have had cause before to complain about the miserable presentation of these Warner Apex reissues and their lack of any information about the music contained on the discs. In this case one has to look in the small print inside the booklet to ascertain the most interesting point about this disc: the performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an exhibition is given not in the more usually heard orchestration by Maurice Ravel but in the version by Sergei Gorchakov made in 1954, which Kurt Masur clearly prefers since he has also recorded it with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. The booklet tells us absolutely nothing about the differences between the Gorchakov edition and the more familiar Ravel, nor does it provide any information about the ‘pictures’ themselves. No matter how cheaply the discs are sold, the purchaser must expect more than this.
In fact the differences between Gorchakov and Ravel are not that substantial. Gorchakov includes the Promenade before Limoges which Ravel cut - the latter was working from an earlier edition of the score. He also adheres more closely to Mussorgsky’s original piano score, when the oxcart in Bydlo does not - as in Ravel - approach from the distance; instead (as in Ashkenazy’s orchestration) the cart is physically prominent from the very start. Again, instead of Ravel’s saxophone portraying the minstrel in The old castle we have what sounds like a muted trombone. In the absence of any booklet information, which doesn’t even mention the minstrel, any more than it does the oxcart, this can only be a speculative guess. Nor is it clear what brass instrument takes over the depiction of the poor Jew in Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle from Ravel’s muted trumpet. Otherwise Gorchakov uses a greater range of percussion than Ravel, to spectacular effect in Gnomus which sounds more seriously menacing than Ravel’s grotesque figure. For more information about Gorchakov’s version readers are referred to Bob Briggs’ review on this site of a live performance by the Royal Philharmonic.
The performances sound very well in the acoustic of the Snape Maltings although the booklet assumes that audiences outside the UK will know precisely where this is located. The Prokofiev Classical Symphony is given plenty of life by Masur. This is not a piece that lends itself to much variety of interpretation, but it does demand superlative orchestral playing, which it certainly gets here. Prokofiev deliberately set out to mimic the procedures of the eighteenth century while using the orchestral resources of the twentieth. The result is one of the most delightful pieces of froth you will ever hear. Masur doesn’t miss a point.
The disc is decidedly short measure, and unless you particularly want the Gorchakov version of Pictures you would be better off looking for a recording of the ‘standard’ Ravel orchestration - of which there are a great number, many of which are recommendable. If this reissue had given more information about the Gorchakov edition it might have been more valuable. Comparison of the numerous orchestrations of Mussorgsky’s original is a very enjoyable and instructive pastime. I have complete versions not only by Ravel, Ashkenazy and this Gorchakov in my collection, but also ones by Stokowski and Funtek - and Leonard Slatkin made a very enjoyable compilation of excerpts versions by various other hands including Sir Henry Wood; see also Nashville/Slatkin version. The casual listener needs more informative guidance than is given here. Worse still, someone who buys the disc expecting the Ravel may be disappointed, if only because Ravel’s often subtle orchestration still remains the most enjoyable for general listening. Nice to hear an alternative once in a while, though.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Nice to hear an alternative Pictures once in a while.
Masterwork Index: Pictures at an exhibition ~~ Classical Symphony
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