Notes and Editorial Reviews
A number of years ago, Jon Klibonoff made an arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition for piano trio and clarinet (including bass clarinet), thus retaining the string and wind colorations of the piece. The daring decision to arrange it for piano trio was made collaboratively by the ensemble Trio Solisti in many long sessions, where each member carefully examined his or her part for possibilities in the process of transcription. Includes all fifteen movements of Ravel’s orchestration and what has now become the accepted version of Mussorgsky’s original piano composition. Mussorgsky’s inspiration for Pictures at an Exhibition was the paintings of brilliant young artist and architect Victor Hartmann, whose early death at
thirty-nine so grieved Mussorgsky that he decided to write a piece in his memory. The companion piece on this disc, Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor, is recognized as one of the greatest chamber works of the twentieth century. It premiered in Paris in 1915.
R E V I E W S:
A piano Pictures-plus-two is a skillful arrangement well worth hearing
The idea of transcribing Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition for piano trio strikes one at first as a bizarre inspiration, but there's no logical reason why it should. Several decades of familiarity - or over-familiarity - with Ravel's orchestration have conditioned listeners to accept Mussorgsky's tribute to the painter Viktor Hartmann in large symphonic dressing with brass, bells and saxophone, so why not a piano trio, which, arguably, has a greater claim to historical aptness?
Trio Solisti's arrangement skilfully recasts Mussorgsky's musical gallery. The piano takes the first statement of the opening "Promenade", followed by violin and cello. The malign opening phrases of"Gnomus" are given to piano and cello, with the yielding phrases played by what sounds like a muted violin. "The Old Castle" surprisingly gives the initial solo to the violin, but the cello - a more effective troubadour - joins in later, and there is lovely hushed playing by all three musicians at the coda. "Tuileries" is graceful and witty, with Maria Bachmann's clever solo violin actually evoking a nice fin de siecle Parisian flavour. The cello, of course, stands in for the ox-cart in "Bydlo", later shared by violin. "Unhatched Chicks" sounds rather cautious but the arrangement is inspired, with idiomatic birdlike chirping from Bachmann. "Goldenberg and Schmuyle" feels literal and uninspired, though there is a lively market at "Limoges", and an atmospheric "Catacombs", with evocative piano work by Jon Klibonoff, spooky hushed tremolos from Bachmann and a nice glowing solace by all. "Baba Yaga" is oddly anodyne with an unimaginative arrangement and want of energy, but the whole is rounded off with a resounding "Great Gate of Kiev". The performance is largely exemplary, with the lean, vinegary string tone suiting the approach though the arrangements of some pictures come off better than others.
In the apt coupling of Ravel's Piano Trio, Klibonoff's accents at the opening are rather over-emphatic but the performance soon finds its footing with terrific playing by Bachmann, with a wide dynamic range. The fractionally impatient tempo works against evoking the sense of fantasy, though the coda has requisite lingering languor. The "Pantoum" is neatly turned, with bold articulation, though some may find Bachmann's vibrato a bit too plush. The ensuing "Passacaille" is gentle and thoughtful in a spacious reading that brings out the dark melancholy, and the performance is rounded off by a vividly projected final movement. Trio Solisti do not possess the most luxuriant sound, but these are fine, characterful performances and, even with quibbles, the trio arrangement should find popularity among chamber groups for bringing Mussorgsky's popular warhorse to new audiences.
-- Lawrence A Johnson, Gramophone [2/2008]
Works on This Recording
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in A minor by Maurice Ravel
Jon Klibonoff (Piano),
Alexis Pia Gerlach (Cello),
Maria Bachmann (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1914; France
Featured Sound Samples
Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky): Promenade
Piano Trio in A Minor (Ravel): I. Modéré
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