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Symphonic Works by Modest Mussorgsky / Svetlanov

Mussorgsky / Ussr State Academic So / Svetlanov
Release Date: 01/08/2013 
Label:  Melodiya   Catalog #: 1002034   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Modest Mussorgsky
Conductor:  Yevgeny Svetlanov
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL Pictures at an Exhibition. MUSSORGSKY Scherzo. Intermezzo in modo classico. Solemn March. MUSSORGSKY-RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Night on Bald Mountain Yevgeny Svetlanov, cond; USSR State Academic SO MELODIYA 10 02034 (64:31)

In the waning days of the Comecon bloc, I, in my capacity as a record dealer, was able to finagle my way into the archives of several important Eastern record Read more companies to make bulk purchases of recordings that were by then just taking up space on the shelves in their warehouses. Companies that I thus “raided” included Muza, Balkanton, Deutsche Schallplatten (Eterna, Nova, etc.) and Supraphon. The record company that I most wanted to explore in this fashion was the Melodiya firm in the former Soviet Union, but somehow I never managed to get back into their inventory holdings. I even thought I had worked out a deal with Melodiya to fund the issuance of some of the never-released volumes in the Vladimir Sofronitsky complete edition. By then, state funds had run dry, and the project halted in midstream, as did the series devoted to Leonid Kogan and David Oistrakh. My Sofronitsky project, too, never came to fruition, despite my repeated attempts to make it happen, and initial agreement on the part of Melodiya management. Several times since then, I have thought the Melodiya company was gone for good, but it keeps reappearing, like the legendary phoenix. The latest evidence of its resurrection is the CD in hand. (Someone more knowledgeable than I needs to write a history of this company!)

The above recollection of my LP days was prompted by the label design of this CD, which is made to look like a miniature LP, even down to the “grooves” in the black outer part of the disc! Naturally, all of the recordings on this issue derive from the LP era, having originally been issued on Melodiya CM 05725-28, so the label design is not inappropriate. The original set contained two discs, and everything save orchestral selections from Boris, Khovanshchina, and Sorotchinsky Fair are found on this CD reissue.

In 34:5, I reviewed a Regis CD that contained a later (1989) reading of Pictures than the one on the present CD. In that review, to which I refer the interested reader for my additional comments on Svetlanov, I noted that his tempos in the 15-year span between the 1974 studio recording on this Melodiya recording and the live performance from a sesquicentennial concert had increased significantly. So, in the recording at hand, one can hear Svetlanov’s original conception of the Mussorgsky masterpiece as reimagined by Ravel, and indeed, it is a fine rendition of the work, with many felicitous touches. The opening promenade is stately, and I think better conceived in tempo than the conductor’s later versions. While his “Gnomus” is not particularly menacing, it is still effective. In the second promenade, Western ears will have to put up with the typical Russian horn vibrato in the solos for that instrument. “Tuilleries” has a deliciously delicate approach, especially the ending, with a very touching rendition of a child’s laughter in m. 36. I was particularly impressed with the way that Svetlanov depicted the straining oxen in mm. 39 following in “Byd?o,” surpassing just about any conductor I can recall in that spot.

One unusual feature of this reading is the conductor’s insertion of percussion in mm. 17 and 18 of “Samuel Goldenberg,” and again in “Catacombs,” none of which is in the Ravel score. It works well, and I doubt Ravel would have minded. There are only a few minor flaws in this otherwise superb performance. In m. 106 of “Il vecchio Castello,” the bass clarinet note is inaudible. It is marked pianissimo in the score, but is an important note that must somehow still be heard. In mm. 97 following of “Baba-Yaga,” the same problem that afflicts many piano recordings is present here: The triplets are played too quickly, and thus the contrast with the subsequent tremolo in mm. 110 following is lost. These are but minor flaws in an otherwise fine rendition of this work.

Filling out the disc are four shorter orchestral works. The Rimsky-Korsakov reworking of Night on Bald Mountain is the same exact 1963 performance on the Regis CD that I reviewed in 34:5. Summary of that review: It is simply the most exciting and virtuosic performance of the work that I’ve ever heard, and is worth the price of the CD by itself. The earlier recording date means that the sonics are a bit on the shrill side, but never mind that. If you don’t have this recording of Night in your collection in some form or another, you should. The three short character pieces have better sonics, and I believe they also were recorded in 1974, along with Pictures. They include the Scherzo in B?-Major (the key is erroneously given as “B Major” every place where the work is mentioned on tray card and notes in English, although it’s correct in the French and the Russian notes), Intermezzo in modo classico, and the Solemn March. None of Svetlanov’s readings of these three evince the excitement that is found in his Night or Pictures, but that’s because none of them were written by their composer to contain the palpable excitement levels of those works. The readings of all three are solid enough to convince me that these pieces ought to be heard more often in the concert hall.

So, how do the sonics of this CD remastering hold up to that of the original LPs? I didn’t A-B the entire CD against my LP set, but the several spots I checked in both Night and Pictures were virtually indistinguishable to my ears in the two formats. This was surprising, because that has seldom been the case for previous recordings that I have checked this way. The engineer at Melodiya both knew what he wanted, and had the technical skill to accomplish it. The playing of the USSR State Academic SO throughout is polished and technically secure. If you have any interest in Svetlanov and/or the orchestral music of Mussorgsky, this is an item well worth picking up.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Scherzo for Piano in B flat major by Modest Mussorgsky
Conductor:  Yevgeny Svetlanov
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1858; Russia 
Date of Recording: 1974 
Length: 4 Minutes 4 Secs. 
2. Intermezzo for Piano in B minor "in modo classico" by Modest Mussorgsky
Conductor:  Yevgeny Svetlanov
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1860-1861; Russia 
Date of Recording: 1974 
Length: 8 Minutes 3 Secs. 
3. Night on the Bare Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
Conductor:  Yevgeny Svetlanov
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1866; Russia 
Date of Recording: 1974 
Length: 11 Minutes 6 Secs. 
4. Solemn March by Modest Mussorgsky
Conductor:  Yevgeny Svetlanov
Period: Romantic 
Date of Recording: 1974 
Length: 5 Minutes 34 Secs. 
5. Pictures at an Exhibition for Orchestra (orchestrated by Ravel) by Modest Mussorgsky
Conductor:  Yevgeny Svetlanov
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1874/1922; Russia 
Date of Recording: 1974 
Length: 29 Minutes 31 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 A Sophisticated reading of Mussorgsky July 12, 2014 By owen  r. (lakewood, CA) See All My Reviews "I had to listen to this CD several times to come to a full appreciation of the performance. Svetlanov gives a subtle reading of Bald Mountain and Pictures. The 2012 remastering of this 1974 recording is done very well. For the more usual sensational performance of these works, my favorites are: Slatkin/St. Louis S.O. recorded by audiophiles beloved Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickreniz on the budget VOX label (7208) and Reiner/CSO remastered by RCA for SACD.....it does not get any better than this!" Report Abuse
 Orchestral works rarely heard June 17, 2014 By Martin B. (EastLongmeadow, MA) See All My Reviews "Although the performance of Pictures is good, I enjoyed the four other works even more since I hadn't previously heard three of them (all except Night on Bald Mountain). I must admit to some "Pictures fatigue" since it's played so often both in its orchestral and piano versions. The audio quality is surprisingly good. I'll keep this CD for the non-Pictures items." Report Abuse
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