Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition / Barry Douglas
Rca Victor Red Seal
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
An impressive performance, spacious, full-bodied, and last but not least, never forgetful of the warm human feeling prompting Mussorgsky's tribute to a recently and prematurely deceased friend.
After Barry Douglas's recent RCA concerto debut in the Tchaikovsky, now a solo recital—with Pictures at an Exhibition, long a cornerstone of his repertory, the principal work. It's an impressive performance, spacious, full-bodied, and last but not least, never forgetful of the warm human feeling prompting Mussorgsky's tribute to a recently and prematurely deceased friend. In view of Ashkenazy's own orchestration of the work, it is perhaps not surprising that he himself draws a wider range of colour from the keyboard, particularly
its upper register glints; his characterization is just a shade more vivid, underpinned by a stronger sense of direction (Decca). But Douglas's tone is warmer—and full marks to the RCA engineers for reproduction so faithful.
Both artists use the Urtext edition, notably giving us an ff start to ''Bydlo''. Here I think douglas's slower tempo is a distinct advantage in evoking the ox-wagon's lumbering motion, just as his marginally brisker tempo for the finale is truer to the composer's allegro alla breve marking. But neither his quarrelling children in the Tuileries garden nor his gossiping market-women at Limoges have as much temperament as Ashkenazy's, nor is his witch as ferocious—or sinister in flight. Both players, in their different ways, rightly make the recurrent promenade episode very personal. But on its first reflective return I questioned Douglas's subdivision of each phrase into two, just as I wondered if the ensuing sad song of the troubador (here very much an unrequited lover at the castle gate) really needs his occasional yieldings of pulse. His exceptionally full, rich fortissimo, free of all edginess or clang, is of course a tremendous asset in the majestic finale—as it also is in the big climaxes of the Dante Sonata. Comparison with Brendel (Philips) in this work revealed Douglas less dramatically menacing, less intense. But in its less urgent way (and, incidentally, he allows himself all the time in the world for the middle section's bittersweet reflection), the reading is warmly romantic and expansive—with some ravishing softer sonority en route. You're certainly left in no doubt as to why Liszt included the word 'fantasia' in the title. If yielding phrasing in the Liebestod sometimes relaxes tension in pianissimo, textural strands are clearly defined and the climax itself is sumptuous.
-- Joan Chissell, Gramophone [5/1987]
Works on This Recording
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Perfect Pictures April 3, 2014
By bess holloway (Boulder, CO) See All My Reviews
"I once heard Pictures At An Exhibition played live--the most impressive solo performance in my life. Barry Douglas's performance on this CD is the best recorded version I've heard. This one is a cause for celebration!"