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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Piano Works
Various artists
rec. 1949-2017
MELODIYA MELCD1002541 [68:18]

I am one of those people who have always preferred the original piano version of Pictures at an Exhibition to any of the many arrangements and orchestrations, including the famous one by Ravel, so I was especially interested in this disc as it offers over an hour of Mussorgsky’s lesser known piano music, some of which is new to me. This is especially so when one appreciates that the music presented here very nearly spans the composers productive output, the earliest piece, Porte-en-seigne Polka dating from as early as 1852 when Mussorgsky was only 13, with many of the other pieces dating from 1880.

Porte-en-seigne Polka is Viennese in style and a charming little piece, one that was written shortly after Mussorgsky had entered the Cadet School of the Guards, a work which despite the composer’s tenderer age already shows the young man’s prodigious talent. However, if one compares it to the following piece, Souvenir d’enfance, composed some five years later, one can see a marked advancement in his technique and ability, not to say style; this piece being more nationalistic in nature: he had after all become part of the circle that surrounded Mily Balakirev.

The Scherzo in C Sharp minor was originally intended as part of a sonata for piano four-hands that sadly remained unfinished; despite its brevity the piece is in four sections; opening with a typical sparkling scherzo, it then moves into a short, more tender, second theme, the piece then repeats the opening music before ending with a repeat of the second theme. This is performed very well by Elizaveta Mazalova, so it is a shame that the recording is a bit too reverberant, it almost sounds like a live recording.

Of the early pieces Intermezzo in modo classic is perhaps my favourite; it was composed in 1862 and marks the end of the composers ‘pupil period’, it is one of his most original pieces from this period and certainly points towards those works which were to follow including the final movement of Pictures at an Exhibition.

RÍverie, Une Larme and Meditation are the earliest recordings on this disc and they are showing their age; however, they are magically brought to life by Maria Yudina, she is a pianist who manages to bring out Mussorgsy’s genius and originality better than most. These are charming pieces but Yudina shows that there is more to them than originally meets the eye. The second and third of these pieces both date from 1880, i.e. well into the composer’s late period, and I must say that it is the next track that best sums up this period and Mussorgsky as a composer of piano music, as in In the Village, and to a lesser extent, the following Capriccio, we have pieces that would not have been out of place in his pianistic masterpiece.

The final three pieces are all transcriptions, the first two by the composer from his opera Sorochintsy Fair, and include the famous Gopak of the Merry Lads, with the transcription losing none of the intensity and excitement of the original version. The final piece, the Serenade from the Songs and Dances of Death was transcribed by Samuil Feinberg, who certainly seems to have had a great affinity with the music of Mussorgsky, if this wonderful Arrangement is anything to go by.

All the pieces are performed very well indeed with only the slight reservations about the recording quality that I have already highlighted being a drawback, but the performances do make up for this. The booklet notes are very good which adds to the enjoyment of these mainly unknown pieces.

Stuart Sillitoe

1 Porte-en-seigne Polka [3:11]
2 Souvenir d'enfance [4:29]
Viktoria Postnikova (rec. 1982)
3 Scherzo in C Sharp minor [4:53]
Elizaveta Mazalova (rec. 1916)
4 Corners (Scherzo) No. 1 from Children’s Games [2:46]
Alexander Bakhchiev (rec. 1971)
5 Impromptu passionnť [3:06]
Viktoria Postnikova (rec. 1982)
6 Intermezzo in modo classic [4:57]
Alexander Bakhchiev (rec. 1971)
From Memories of Childhood
7 No. 1, ‘Nanny and I’ [1:14]
8 No. 2, ‘The First Punishment’ [1:31]
Viktoria Postnikova (rec. 1982)
9 RÍverie [4:56]
Maria Yudina (rec. 1949)
10 La Caprisieuse on a theme of Count L Heyden [2:53]
11 The Seamstress [2:27]
12 On the southern shore of the Crimea (Gurzuf) [4:39]
Alexander Bakhchiev (rec. 1971)
13 Une Larme (A Tear) [3:14]
14 Meditation (Album Leaf) [4:37]
Maria Yudina (rec. 1949)
15 In the Village [3:55]
16 Near the southern shore of the Crimea (Capriccio) [3:05]
From Sorochintsy Fair
17 ‘Fair Scene’ [4:52]
18 ‘Gopak of the Merry Lads [1:49]
Alexander Bakhchiev’ (rec. 1971)
Modest MUSSORGSKY arr. Samuil FEINBERG (1890-1962)
Songs and Dances of Death: Serenade [5:38]
Sergei Kasprov (rec. 2017)

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