Mussorgsky – Ravel / Pictures at an Exhibition / Ashkenazy – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This original London pressing of the solo piano version of Pictures has uncannily natural piano reproduction, which is why we are awarding this side one our highest sonic grade, A Triple Plus.

The fact that the recording takes place in Kingsway Hall in 1967 no doubt plays a large part in the superb sound. The hall is bigger here than on other copies, the piano even more solidly weighted, yet none of this comes at the expense of the clarity of the playing. There is no smear, allowing both the percussive aspects of the piano and the extended harmonics of the notes to be heard clearly and appreciated fully.

Side two has Mehta’s performance of the orchestrated work squeezed onto side two, which is never a good idea if one is looking for high quality orchestral sound. The performance itself is mediocre as well.

We are not, and never haver been, big fans of Mehta’s work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on London. The exceptionally rare copy of The Planets can sound good, but 90% of them do not — just don’t make the mistake of telling that to the average audiophile who owns one. Harry told him it was the best, he paid good money for it, and until someone tells him different it had better be “the one Planets to own.”

We see one of our roles here at Better Records as being the guys who actually will “tell you different”, and, more importantly, can back up our opinions with the records that make our case for us.

Wikipedia Commentary and Background

The enduring popularity of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition lies in the satisfaction it offers both at first hearing and in repeated visits. The variety of invention and distinctive character of each movement appeal at once. Visual motives find vivid aural form: clocks, bells, chants, feathers, flames, climb and descent. The piece rewards additional hearings with new relationships constantly to be discovered. The first two movements of the suite–one grand, one grotesque–find mirrored counterparts, and apotheoses, at the end. The suite traces a journey that begins at an art exhibit, but the line between observer and observed vanishes at the Catacombs when the journey takes on a different character. For all the variety individual movements display in musical invention, each springs from a kernel in the opening melody. The Promenade theme provides distinctive “cells” of two and three notes that generate themes and accompaniment figures throughout the piece.


TRACK LISTING

Side One  (Piano Version)

Promenade
Gnomus
Il Vecchio Castello
Tuileries
Bydlo
Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells
Samuel Goldenburg und Schmuyle
The Market Place at Limoges
Catacombs: Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua
The Hut on Fowl’s Legs
The Great Gate Of Kiev

Side Two (Ravel Orchestration)

Promenade
Gnomus
Il Vecchio Castello
Tuileries
Bydlo
Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells
Samuel Goldenburg und Schmuyle
The Market Place at Limoges
Catacombs: Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua
The Hut on Fowl’s Legs
The Great Gate Of Kiev

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