Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Classics: Concluding our walking tour through Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition"


Why don't we begin at the very end? We launched last week's Pictures preview with Esa-Pekka Salonen (whom we'd last heard conducting Stravinsky's Firebird) and the Philharmonia Orchestra opening the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures, so it seems only right to have them bring the piece to this stirring conclusion with "The Hut on Fowl's Legs" and "The Great Gate of Kiev" (the best thing I've ever heard Salonen do, I have to say) from that 2006 Proms performance.

by Ken

If there's one lesson I take away from the time we've spent with Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, last week (preview and main post) and this (starting with last night's preview), it's that performers of these vividly imagined miniatures need to be operating at a comparable level of awareness and imagination, whether they're tackling the original piano version or Ravel's or anyone else's orchestral version. Esa-Pekka Salonen's performance of the concluding "Hut on Fowl's Legs" and "Great Gate at Kiev" in the clip above is a splendid demonstration. This is by no means the only way to do the music, but the choices are all fully imagined and executed. I doubt that anyone who hears this performance is going to forget the music anytime soon.

I'm not sure there's much more to say of an introductory nature. We're continuing with the game plan aid out last week: walking through Mussorgsky's musical rendering of pictures from the posthumous of work by his friend Viktor Hartmann -- in the composer's piano version and, among the many orchestral versions that have been attempted, the most-often-encountered one, by the composer Maurice Ravel, and the one by master orchestral colorist Leopold Stokowski.

From last night's Part 2 preview, we've heard how today's half-Pictures begins (with No. 6, "Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle" movement) and ends (with the rousing No. 10, "The Great Gate of Kiev"). In a moment we'll fill in the missing three (really four) pictures. Note that this week we're proceeding from picture to picture without benefit of those "promenades" Mussorgsky inserted between most of the earlier pictures. Note that there actually is one more Promenade, between No. 6 and No. 7, "Limoges -- The Marketplace," which Ravel omitted and many pianists do as well. Our Pictures companion William Kapell included it, however, and we'll hear it in place in his performance below. When we get to that point in our walk-through, we're going to have pianist Michel BĂ©roff play it for us.

Before we resume out promenade through the exhibition, since we heard the start of Vladimir Horowitz's extravagant rendering of Pictures last week, I thought it would be fun to hear him bring it to a close with "The Hut with Fowl Legs" and "The Great Gate at Kiev."



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