Symphonic Works by Modest Mussorgsky / Svetlanov
Mussorgsky / Ussr State Academic So / Svetlanov
Number of Discs:
1 Hours 4 Mins.
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Pictures at an Exhibition.
Scherzo. Intermezzo in modo classico. Solemn March.
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
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
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
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
are found on this CD reissue.
In 34:5, I reviewed a Regis CD that contained a later (1989) reading of
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
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
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
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,
None of Svetlanov’s readings of these three evince the excitement that is found in his
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
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
Scherzo for Piano in B flat major by Modest Mussorgsky
Written: 1858; Russia
Date of Recording: 1974
Length: 4 Minutes 4 Secs.
Night on the Bare Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
Written: 1866; Russia
Date of Recording: 1974
Length: 11 Minutes 6 Secs.
Solemn March by Modest Mussorgsky
Date of Recording: 1974
Length: 5 Minutes 34 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 3 Customer Reviews )
The Old Castle February 22, 2017
By Duane K. (Scottsdale, AZ) See All My Reviews
"A good CD made exceptional by the 5.24 minutes of The Old Castle. I play it repeatedly."
Russian all the way through July 12, 2014
By owen ryan (lakewood, CA) See All My Reviews
"Svetlanov, known for his interpretations of Russian works, gives us a sensational performance of Night on Bald Mountain and Pictures At An Exhibition. The USSR State Academic Orchestra upholds the Russian reputation for excellence. The 2012 remastering of this 1974 recordng is done very well. For a less expensive alternative try: 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! P.S. see my reviews of May 1 and 3, 2017 of the Slatkin and Reiner recordings."
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."