The "Great Performances" sobriquet certainly applies to the Philadelphia version of "Pictures at an Exhibition." Ormandy is sometimes accused of stodginess, and that was probably true of his recordings from the RCA and especially the EMI years, but here he chooses tempi that are just right, probably a little fast, in fact, for Bydlo, the lumbering ox-cart. But with virtuoso playing from low strings and the tuba player, this is not merely a valid approach but an arresting one. The balances and the color Ormandy extracts from the orchestra are enhanced by a recording that I find frankly amazing. Many fine Philadelphia performances from the mid-sixties were done in by the Columbia engineers, who provided coarse, blowsy sound. This is true, for instance of Ormandy's otherwise successful Nielsen recordings. But here the sound, while bigger than life in typical Columbia fashion, is very real in timbre, and the ambience is entirely believable as well. Percussion is very much front and center...
I'm truly glad Ormandy's legendary recording has become available again. Although I will probably always listen to the original piano version of Pictures (Janis, Horowitz, Richter) more often than Ravel's adaption for orchestra, whereas Reiner's interpretation is made to impress, this I believe is the one to fall head over heels for.
Schippers's 1961 Scenes from Boris Godunov with London (most impressive as Boris), Allen, Fried and Kolk that, at least so far as the cover is concerned, seem to get top billing in this release, are really growing on me, too, by the way - so much so I almost always play the disc complete, and only occasionally Ormandy's Pictures exclusively. Compares very favourably to that famous recording of the (actually not quite) complete opera, you know, the one with Boris as Boris, I mean, the one with Christoff, Christoff and (who else?) Christoff... ;^)
Greetings from Switzerland, David.
Although far from being universally esteemed by critics, Ormandy was beloved by audiences, and this Pictures at an Exhibition shows why. The playing by the Philadelphia Orch. is incredibly plush and easy to listen to, although Ormandy's penchant for blandness keeps the music's tension down. As remastered here, the original CBS sonics do full justice to the playing--from the first Promenade one is aware that so far as execution goes, Ormandy's reading can stand up to Reiner's classic recording with the Chicago Sym. on RCA. Musically, however, Reiner is much more incisive and dramatic.
George London made headlines in the Cold War as the first American to be invited to sing the role of Boris Godunov in the Soviet Union, and these excerpts from the opera demonstrate his beautiful tone and rock-solid intonation, without a trace of wobble. London doesn't try for Boris Christoff's scenery-chewing anguish (who could hope to match that?), but in its resonance and richness, this is a...
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