Claudio Abbado, to my knowledge, is the only major conductor to record entire non-opera recordings devoted to Mussorgsky. This is his third such recording, although all the works on this recording are re-recordings that Abbado made earlier for RCA and DG.
Abbado seems to have a preference for the original version of Night on Bald Mountain, rather than the more common Rimsky-Korsakov arrangement of the work. The original version is quite different from the re-orchestrated version, and Mussorgsky has some interesting ideas. The structure of the tone-poem in Mussorgsky's hands in quite loose and episodic, and it is clear why Rimsky-Korsakov felt that he needed to re-orchestrate it. I just wish, however, that Rimsky-Korsakov would have used more of Mussorsky's unique tonal palette in his orchestration.
The four choral pieces on this disk are all short, pleasant, and well worth hearing. The sequence of the pieces make for a very satifying whole.
Alongside such works as Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre", and Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique", Modest Mussorgsky's "A Night On Bald Mountain" is one of the best-known works to delve into the world of the macabre. But what is not so well known is the fact that this "musical painting", as the composer called it, was worked at in four different permutations, both during the composer's life, and long after he had died. Three of these are purely orchestral in nature: the arrangement made by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov that the vast majority of the music-listening public has most often heard; the arrangement by Leopold Stokowski for the final segment of Disney's 1940 animated classic FANTASIA (which segues into Franz Schubert's beloved "Ave Maria"); and the composer's own extremely primitive original orchestration. It is this latter one that is the centerpiece of this 1994 Deutsche Grammophon recording by Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
I've both the Karajan and Gergiev recordings, and I think this is perfect compliment to them. Karajan remains a first choice for me for "Pictures": he seemed the only conductor who understood the majesty of this music, and his slower tempo throughout, especially in 'Great Gate", works magnificently (Reiner and Szell both rush through "Gate " too damn fast). The real value of this album, as others have mentioned, are the other works. Abbado's "Pictures" is worth hearing, if not a first, or second, choice.
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