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Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Night on the Bare Mountain - Kuchar

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Night on the Bare Mountain - Kuchar

Naxos  6.110061

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel), Night on the Bare Mountain (original and Rimsky-Korsakov versions)

National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
Theodore Kuchar (conductor)


Mussorgsky's 1874 suite Pictures at an Exhibition, a tribute to the versatile artist Viktor Hartmann, has proved perhaps the most popular of all the composers works, both in its original version for piano and in the colourful orchestral version of Ravel presented here. Linked by Promenades for the visitor to the exhibition, Mussorgsky represents in music a varied collection, from the Market of Limoges and the Catacombs to the final Great Gate of Kiev. This recording also presents two versions of the orchestral favourite Night on the Bare Mountain, an orchestral witches sabbath.

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Review by John Broggio - March 3, 2006

This is one a pair of good, if not exceptional, Mussorgsky discs from Naxos, together with Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky (Stokowski Transcriptions) - Serebrier (which could justifiably be thought of as more Stokowski than Mussorgsky!) which reveal many ways to approach this marvellous music in both recording terms and interpretation.

This disc opens with the Night on the Bare Mountain (Rimsky-Korsakov version) and is treated to a very fine performance; plenty of fire in the main body of the work before a wonderfully relaxing coda. After a couple of small fillers (of which more later) we are treated to the Mussorgsky's own orchestration and one immediately realises how much more violent a conception was toned down by Rimsky-Korsakov. In the "transcription", the playing for most part attempts to capture the violence of the original until the coda which points up the oddity of the "serene" coda - in this respect, Kuchar might have obtained a more cohesive interpretation of the Rimsky-Korsakov version had he not attempted such a contrasted reading. It is in this track only that there is a little suspect intonation from the brass (in the coda) which is a real pity, as it is the orchestras only blemish. In the original version, the savageness and magic of conception is very vividly conjured up with highly exciting playing - the more I hear this version, the more I prefer it to the Rimsky-Korsakov arrangement but I would hate never to hear the flute solo at the ending!

In between these highly different works(!), we are given the delightful Hopak from Soronchintsy Fair and then the entirely troubling Golotsïn's Exile from Khovanshchina. Both are played with style and make for a very contrasting make weights in between the two Night on the Bare Mountain's. Sadly the notes for both these pieces are very coy about the orchestrations used - I suspect that they are by Lyapunov and Shostakovich but I could very well be mistaken; if so, please let me know!

After that we are treated (and it is a treat in this performance) to Ravel's majestic and sublime orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition. All the pictures in question are brought to life with a great deal of character whilst the Promenade-theme successfully unites the work into a satisfying whole. At no time is the Ukrainian orchestra wanting for colour or sophistication and the brass and woodwind have a very pleasing Soviet sound whilst retaining a modern standard of ensemble. They and Kuchar sound as though they are really having fun, despite the countless number of times they must have performed this work. From recent recordings, this is the most enjoyable Pictures I have heard.

The sound is quite dry but sufficiently detailed for all the orchestrations many subtleties to register. Not a Pentatone or Channel Classics top flight recording by any means but a very enjoyable experience from every perspective. The MCH layer is very well done, with the rears allowing a little more separation of contributions but remaining almost completely imperceptible until switching back to stereo (just how I like it) although the dryness remains.

(Purchased)

Copyright © 2006 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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