Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition - Ponti
PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 332
Classical - Orchestral
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, A Night on the Bare Mountain
Russian National Orchestra
Carlo Ponti (conductor)
Review by John Broggio - January 20, 2009
A disappointing release, despite some wonderful playing from the Russian National Orchestra and a very clear recording from Pentatone.
A conductor new to SACD and by the sounds of the music making on offer here, new to the pieces as well. The RNO must have played much of the material on the disc many, many times and unlike when a charismatic and inspiring conductor with a symphonic grasp is placed in front of them they sound bored - as a result so is the listener. There are many felicities (a mark of the professionalism to which the RNO approach the disc) on offer during Ravel's miracle of orchestration - Ponti clearly asks for very neat and tidy playing - which provide for the odd spark of interest at a "new" audible detail here or there. Sadly, the lack of phrasing in some of the longer pictures as The Old Castle or Byldo (The Oxcart) means there appears to be no over-arching framework to the individual caricature or the work as a whole. The lack of grandeur and tension in The Great Gate of Kiev is certainly unusual but not something one wishes to repeat.
Almost more incredibly, the pulse at no time quickens during the Night on the Bare Mountain (in the Rimsky-Korsakov arrangement/orchestration). Quite the best items on the disc are those which are clearly less often performed by the RNO as their interest seems pricked - the Introduction to The Sorochinsky Fair (delightfully tender playing) and the Dance of the Persian Slave Girls from Khovanshchina (the Prelude from the same source is also given a lacklustre reading and there are some slight issues with execution that had a more compelling presence been stood on the rostrum, they would surely have been corrected).
Thanks to the RNO's crystal clear reading, the Pentatone recording (with a narrower dynamic range than one would normally expect from the company - most likely Ponti's doing) allows the listener to dispense with a score; all the details are audibly clear!
Not recommended to anyone except die-hard fans of the RNO (the performance rating is for their contribution only - it may have been more exciting had no-one been present on the podium, or even a toddler!)
Copyright © 2009 John Broggio and HRAudio.net