Not another Pictures
, I hear you groan,
and the ubiquitous Ravel orchestration too? If nothing else it’s
one of those blockbusters that seldom fails to entertain; throw in the
original version of Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain
and Shostakovich’s take on the Songs and Dances of Death
and this promises to be a collection to remember. Oh, and there’s
Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Orchestra as well; their latest recordings
– including Shchedrin’s The Left-Hander
are now available to download from Hyperion's website.
I’m so used to seeing this maestro looking a little crumpled,
having shuttled in on a red-eye just hours before the concert. All too
often his hectic schedule produces performances that are somewhat lacking,
but when he’s on form Gergiev is well worth hearing. Of his Mariinsky
recordings I was much impressed by his explosive account of Shostakovich’s
. The recordings are generally good, if not class-leading.
This is a Classic Sound production, although I gather that their relationship
with the Mariinsky may be at or near its end.
– which he also recorded with
the Wiener Philharmoniker some years back – seems unusually refined.
Not only that, the conductor is very relaxed as well; his rather dreamy
account of The Old Castle
is a case in point. That’s
not ideal in the highly pointed Tuileries
, but the level of
colour and detail makes up for that. It’s only when we get to
that lumbering oxcart, Bydlo
, that it all starts to sound more
efficient than exciting. I have long admired Lorin Maazel’s Cleveland
on Telarc; his Bydlo
looms far larger than
this, and his gripping, often febrile approach to the work as a whole
is infinitely preferable to either of Gergiev’s.
That said, the Mariinsky Orchestra play well and the recording is good. One could argue – with some justification – that Telarc turned the Maazel recording into a hi-fi spectacular, but in spite of that musical values are still paramount. Moreover, the Cleveland Orchestra outshine their Austrian and Russian counterparts when it comes to vim and virtuosity. At least Maazel isn’t part of the soundtrack; Gergiev’s vocal exertions during The Marketplace at Limoges
are very intrusive indeed. As for the latter’s Catacombs
they’re notably lacking in atmosphere; ditto Cum mortuis
, which has a self-indulgent, rather gilded quality that I don’t care for at all.
Predictably, perhaps, Gergiev turns up the wick for the final numbers;
certainly has an element of excitement, but for reasons
I can’t quite fathom it isn’t as arresting as it should
be. Even The Great Gate of Kiev
, the highpoint of Maazel’s
account – and, indeed, that of Eduardo Mata and his Dallas band
on RCA/Sony – seems rather lacking in scale and grandeur. Good
as the Mariinsky recording is it’s not that much of an advance
on either the RCA/Sony or Telarc ones. That’s a side issue, I
suppose, for it’s the performance that really matters; alas, that
just isn’t up to snuff either.
What of the Songs and Dances of Death
, presented here in Shostakovich’s
austere orchestration? Gergiev has recorded this before as well, with
the youthful-sounding Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Furlanetto’s Lullaby
is lovingly voiced, although he is apt to over-emote at key points.
Even so, he’s a model of restraint compared with Evgeny Nestorenko
in his Melodiya recording with pianist Vladimir Krainev. That said,
his quiet singing is pleasing enough. Again, I’m less than convinced
by Gergiev’s contribution, which seems almost perfunctory at times;
that’s particularly true of his unyielding Serenade
and The Field Marshal
Furlanetto is dutiful
rather than idiomatic – his Russian is rather soft-edged –
but he does have a pleasing line.
It may be something of a curiosity, but the original, warts-and-all
version of Night on a Bare Mountain
- rather than Rimsky's
more polished one - is always worth a listen. My preferred recording
of this is Abbado's on DG; he also offers a rather bright but strongly
characterised set of Pictures
and some rare choral fillers.
By comparison Gergiev lacks animation and colour; in short it's another
tidy but anodyne outing. All three works are well represented in the
catalogue, so this newcomer needed to be rather special to challenge
the best of them. Alas, it isn’t and it doesn’t.
These performances burn with a low flame; even Gergiev groupies are
likely to be disappointed.
Previous review: Simon Thompson