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Pictures at an Exhibition orch. Ravel Chicago SO, Giulini
Night on the Bare Mountain BPO, Maazel
Songs and Dances of Death Fassbaender, Gotheburg SO, Jarvi
Prelude and Dance of Persian Slave Girls (Khovanshhchina)
Vienna State Opera, Abbado
Russian Nat Orch, Pletnev
Pictures from an Exhibition
Sviatoslav Richter
Six Songs
Vishnevskaya, Russian SSO,Markevitch
Boris Godunov (excerpts)
Ghiaurov, Maslennoikov, VPO, Karajan
DG Panorama series. 469 169 -2. 2 CDs Bargain price

The orchestral version of Pictures has 15 tracks the piano version has 14, daft, isn't it? This is because the movement The Old Castle and the succeeding promenade in the piano version is one track whereas in the orchestral version it is two.

In this recording the orchestral version is about four and a half minutes longer than the piano version. Perhaps this is because the orchestral version is more colourful and the colours need to come out. But it is more obvious that Richter wants to speed things up. Giulini is interested in detail, some of which I have not heard before particularly in a staggering performance of the Bydlo movement. And can't you just tell that this is Ravel's orchestration. Bolero is not far away. The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks is very well caught.... the woodwind are quite brilliant. The Samuel Goldenburg Tableaux is an awful piece and where Ravel's orchestration could be called into question. How well Giulini transports us to be among the dead... really grim, sinister and powerful music. The power that Giulini unleashes in The Hut on Chicken's Legs is breathtaking and stirring but the subtle music is equally effective. What a magnificent orchestra Fritz Reiner made the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and so , in 1977, Giulini reaps the benefit as have other conductors.

The Great Gate at Kiev is an awful piece to bring off. It can be played so statically, stiffly, slowly and dully. It can just be noise and pause. I was amazed at Giulini's wise tempo and how he made an excellent job of a doubtful piece of music and orchestration. I have not heard this problematical final movement played better. Giulini has done what no other conductor has done. He has made the music live and get off its bottom!

But there is a problem.

When you hear a fine performance like this and later have to review another performance you make comparisons and the second performance will suffer because of the superb first performance.

Songs and Dances of Death is an amazing song cycle of tremendous emotional and dramatic power, more concise and threfore more effective than those by Mahler. Fassbaender is absolutely magnificent. Her earthy voice with its compelling quality and range is truly superlative. Her communication skill is supreme. Here is one of the greatest voices and singers of the present time. A performance beyond praise.

Richter's version of Pictures was a typical eccentric performance that one is used to from him, by now. It was mannered with strange tempi , a smattering of very bad wrong notes, even allowing for a live performance. And a very cold performance.

The Six Songs has Galina Vishnevskaya in marvellous voice. I was very impressed. She is almost as good as Fassbaender. The songs are very strong, often dramatic and very exciting. My, those upward vocal glissandi.

The excerpts from Boris Godunov were hugely enjoyable once one got over the hurdle that this is Karajan conducting and adding his extraneous matter to the score. It is a great opera and the performance conducted by Andre Clutyens remains my favourite . But I am very fussy about opera.

David Wright  


(Pletnev) to (Giulini, Fassbaender, Vishnevskaya)




David Wright

Reviews from previous months

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