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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Night on Bald Mountain (1866-7) (orch. Rimsky-Korsakov) [11:16]
The Fair at Sorochyntsi (1881) - orchestral excerpts [14:18]
Khovanshchina (1880) - orchestral excerpts [25:05]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind
rec. March 1953, Studio 1, Abbey Road, London. Mono

This Mussorgsky selection has been a constant companion for many years. I got to know it from a Music for Pleasure LP, and my frequent playing of it over the years has taken its toll in terms of wear and tear. Strangely, EMI never released it on CD, so I was quite elated by the fact that Forgotten Records has done the honours. The recording was set down in Studio 1 of Abbey Road in March 1953 and is in mono.
Night on Bald Mountain is one of Modest Mussorgsky's best-known scores, evocative, dramatic and demonic. He never heard it as it wasn't performed during his lifetime. Five years after his death Rimsky-Korsakov made this successful reworking, retaining many of Mussorgsky's original ideas, and adding as little as possible of his own. The work was inspired by Russian and Gogol mythology. A witch's ritual, where they run amok, takes place on a bleak mountaintop, and the devil is summoned up. The success of any performance is dependent on the diabolical frenzy conjured up. For me, Susskind and the Philharmonia capture the very essence of the piece. Even taking into account the dated mono sound, the scintillating fury of the strings, winds and brass emerges with visceral potency. Peace, calm and consolation bring the work to a serene close.

Mussorgsky composed his comic opera The Fair at Sorochyntsi between 1874 and 1880, providing his own libretto based on Nikolai Gogol's short story of the same name. We're offered three orchestral excerpts from the score and they provide a light-hearted contrast to the previous work. The jocund Gopak, especially, has an infectious, memorable melody. The Intermezzo is rhythmically persuasive, with Susskind pointing up the beguiling woodwind lines and adding some captivating hues to the canvas.

Similarly, there are five orchestral excerpts from Khovanshchina, Mussorgsky's unfinished five act opera, again to his own libretto. The opening Prelude depicts dawn on the Moscow river. The Dance of the Persian Slaves, which follows, is infused with melancholy and is exotically flavoured. The Scherzo (no. 4) is quizzical and effervescent, whilst the concluding Turkish March spotlights the spectacular Philharmonia brass section.

The excellent source copies for this remastering are Parlophone (PMC 1018) and Odeon (XOC 108) LPs.
Stephen Greenbank

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