Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Complete Works for Piano
Maurizio Baglini (piano)
Roberto Prosseda (second piano)
rec. 2–3 July 2014, Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Verdi di Pordenone, Italy
DECCA 4811440 [51:55 + 62:09]

Alan Bennett in his 2015 Diaries writes with his trademark waspish wisp, that he doesn’t think he will ever be able to listen to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition ever again. We all know what he means. Haven’t we heard too much of Pictures? I don’t know Mr Bennett. If I did, I would be sending him this CD as a Christmas present, with the message, Please try this. You’ll hear that you never really heard Pictures in the first place.

No composer has ever been so misrepresented as Modest Mussorgsky. And that problem begins with the composer himself. His whole life was one of sketching new musical ideas and rewriting old ones. To add to the confusion, many of these manuscripts are undated.

Following the death of the artist, Viktor Hartman in 1873, an exhibition of his work was arranged in 1874, to which Mussorgsky contributed a number of canvasses from his own collection. Still in mourning for his friend, Mussorgsky did the rounds of the exhibition at least once, then in June 1875 wrote Pictures at an Exhibition. Just like that. The quickest work he had written, with the sorrow of the loss of a friend and a celebration of that man’s work, finding evident expression in the resulting music.

However, no printed score was available until 1886, five years after Mussorgsky died. And this was issued with Rimsky-Korsakov’s schoolmasterish “editing.” Moreover, this is the “version” most listeners know. We had to wait until 1972 for the Mussorgsky original manuscript to be reprinted in facsimile in Russia. (Moiseiwitsch’s 1945 recording is the Rimsky version, and I for one would not want to be without the unique pianism that Moiseiwitsch brings to the piece.)

Maurizio Baglini is as rigorous as a musicologist as he is as a pianist. He plays from the Mussorgsky manuscript with only changes he feels sure the composer would have sanctioned. It’s often overlooked that Mussorgsky was a fine pianist who composed at the piano. Like Beethoven he was constantly searching for new sounds from his instrument. Maestro Baglini has an advantage here over Maestro Mussorgsky. He is the owner of a Fazioli 1660 piano on which all his recordings are made. I bought it instead of buying a house, he told me recently. Paolo Fazioli’s piano factory is just eighteen kilometres from where the recording was made, and customer Baglini asked the engineer to extend the dynamic range of both the fortes and pianos even beyond those of his usual generous range. The engineer did. If you know Mussorgsky’s music you will see how the composer would have nodded in approval.

Baglini has also taken the liberty (while still worshipping at the Mussorgsky shrine) of doubling the bass octaves in the first promenade. The rhythm of this theme is regular, while its meter is irregular. That seemingly contradictory requirement is typical of the composer’s inventiveness. All his music is a vital dialogue between tradition and originality, with the latter usually winning out, except, that is, when Rimsky-Korsakov is admitted into the works.

Our ears are so used to Ravel’s orchestration of these Pictures that it is hard to hear the original piano sounds without an invocation of orchestral colours. This CD however, is a pianist’s Pictures, written by and played by pianists, and—dare I say it?—for pianists. Speak up for your instrument, boys and girls. (Admission: even I sound like a great pianist on a Fazioli piano, whereas the truth is far from what you hear there. And that is not a suggestion that Ingeniere. Fazioli has done more work for this recording than Baglini.)

Mussorgsky’s remaining piano works are salon pieces that often have a waspish wisp that ought to have an appeal to Alan Bennett. It’s hard to know if they were sketches to be worked on later for more profound material. Still, what they lack in profundity they make up for in charm–a quality I had never previously associated with Mussorgsky. Some are invocations of childhood memories, like being whipped by his nurse. (Oops! Some of that elephantine Russian humour there.) Others are invocations of places, as with Pictures. Or of Russian folklore in general. A fun gopak ends CD2.

The sonata for four hands with Roberto Prosseda fairly bristles with Russian life. The scherzo of the same was also rewritten for solo pianist. To my ear, both versions sound the same. Baglini is impressive in his two for the price of one mode.

The greatest liberty of all the pianist has taken is in the final Picture, The Great Gate of Kiev, where, indeed, the composer seems to be inviting the pianist to treat this as a framework for a Liszt-style rhapsody / improvisation. Maurizio Baglini obliges with great pianistic aplomb. The extended dynamic timbres take on the feel of a full orchestra. And one complete with organ that plays a big part in Baglini’s reading.

Jack Buckley

CD 1
Pictures at an exhibition
1 Promenade 1.19
2 Gnomus 2.21
3 Promenade 0.47
4 Il vecchio castello 3.48
5 Promenade 0.25
6 Tuileries 1.02
7 Bydlo 2.23
8 Promenade 0.44
9 The Ballet of Unhatched Chicks in their Shells 1.13
10 Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle 2.20
11 Promenade 1.24
12 Limoges, le marché 1.24
13 Catacombae (Sepulcrum Romanum) 1.39
14 Cum mortuis in lingua mortua 2.35
15 The Hut on Fowl’s Leg (Baba-Yaga) 3.14
16 The Great Gate of Kiev 5.15
17 Rêverie 5.12
18 Impromptu passionné 3.32
19 Intermezzo in modo classico 7.52
20 Porte-enseigne (Polka) 3.23

CD 2
Piano Sonata for four hands in C major
1 I Allegro 5.01
2 II Scherzo 5.13
3 Scherzo in C sharp minor 5.57
4 Au village (Quasi Fantasia) 4.33
5 On the Southern Shore of the Crimea: Gurzuf at Ayu-Dag 5.30
6 Near the Southern Shore of the Crimea: Capriccio 4.09
Memories of Childhood
7 Nanny and me 1.06
8 The first punishment 1.38
9 Méditation (Feuillet d’album) 4.25
10 Une larme 3.21
11 La capricieuse 2.02
12 The Seamstress (Scherzino) 3.49
13 Ein Kinderscherz 4.11
14 Souvenir d’enfance, Childhood Memory 3.42
Sorochintsï Fair
15 Fair Scene 5.25
16 Gopak of the Merry Young Ukrainians 1.56

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