Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Petrushka (1910/11, rev. 1947) [36.22]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) orch. Ravel (1922) [33.25]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 14, 17 April 2015, Philharmonie, Munich (Stravinsky) 13-14 November 2014, Herkulessaal, Munich (Mussorgsky), Germany
BR KLASSIK 900141 [69.53]

Experience has shown that any live recording on BR Klassik from the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under its chief conductor Mariss Jansons is worthy of close attention. Here they turn to an all-Russian programme.

Following the remarkable success of The Firebird the next collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky was in 1911 with Petrushka, a ballet burlesque in four tableaux. The scenario depicts the life of the Russian lower classes, through the loves and envies of three puppets: Petrushka (a sort of Russian version of Mr. Punch), the ballerina Columbine, and the Moor who is brought to life at a Shrovetide Fair in St Petersburg, by a character known as The Magician. Using Stravinsky’s 1947 version which is scored for a smaller orchestra than his 1911 original Jansons and his orchestra revel in Stravinsky’s bold and colourful score charged with variety and experimentation. My highlight is the evocative Russian Dance from tableau one. The Waltz of the Moor and the Ballerina from tableau three is positively delightful. There's no want of commitment as Jansons matches the excitement, rhythmic punch and flair of the ‘classic’ 1950 mono performance of what is basically the 1911 version from Leopold Stokowski with the Leopold Stokowski Symphony Orchestra on Testament.

In 1874 Mussorgsky wrote his piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition inspired by a posthumous exhibition in St. Petersburg of paintings and drawings by his friend Viktor Hartmann who had died suddenly the previous year. After Mussorgsky’s death the suite proved exceptionally popular and there are a considerable number of orchestral transcriptions of which Maurice Ravel’s from 1922 is by far the best known. This dazzling and richly scored orchestral showpiece proves an excellent vehicle for the Bavarian orchestra to display its considerable talents. Calmly assured Jansons demonstrates his prowess in producing impeccable musical colouring from the score’s myriad moods and glorious sonorities. The troubadour’s mournful lament in The Old Castle is played gloriously with exotic saxophone textures and colourful woodwind. Jansons ensures plenty of jaunty playfulness in the Tuileries tableau depicting the famous visitor garden in Paris. A favourite panel Bydlo (ox-cart) portraying a peasant wagon drawn by oxen passing into the distance is interpreted with a convincing sense of fatigue and world-weariness. The memorable Ballet of chicks in their shells is upliftingly buoyant and playful with extremely impressive woodwind playing. The deep mysterious tone accorded to The Catacombs is delightful. To conclude, The Great Gate of Kiev is a spectacular statement - a magnificent and vivid depiction of the imposing edifice. With this performance of Pictures Jansons and his Bavarian players rub shoulders with the magnificently colourful 1995 Philharmonie, Berlin account from GŁnter Wand under Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin on Profil.

The sound is satisfying: clear with a good balance, leaving the audience applause to following each work. Excellently informative booklet notes written by Egon Voss serve to enhance the presentation. If the repertoire of Stravinsky and Mussorgsky appeals there is no reason to hesitate.

Michael Cookson

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