GRAMOPHONE—MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition—piano version, orchestral version (orch Ravel)

Oleg Marshev pf Odense Symphony Orchestra / Jan Wagner Danacord DACOCD656 (70′.DDD)

A fascinating opportunity to compare the piano and orchestral Pictures

Coupling Mussorgsky’s original piano version of Pictures at an Exhibition with Ravel’s celebrated orchestral transcription makes for fascinating listening. This is largely because the ferocity of much of Mussorgsky’s piano-writing is tempered by Ravel with a dazzling but typically Gallic elegance. And this makes it no exaggeration to claim that a single instrument comes to exceed the impact of full orchestra.

Such ironic grandeur is made abundantly clear by Oleg arshev, whose all-Russian mastery takes nothing for granted providing, even in a crowded marketplace, one of the finest Pictures on record. From him every “Promenade”, whether triumphant or introspective, is a refreshing break from th dazzling and awe-inspiring pictures on view. His “Il vecchio castelllo” is alive with incidental but never surplus detail, his “Bydlo” a pulverizing, uncompromising vision. His trills in the trio of the “Ballet des poussins dans leur coques” are delicate and luminous, and his virtuosity in “Limoges” and in the final magisterial pages gloriously uplifting.

All of which makes Jan Wagner and the Odense Symphony Orchestra a less thrilling experience, particularly in the lack of the composer’s prescribed vivo in the “Ballet des poussins” or in the tame view of the con brio and force indications above Baba Yaga’s infernal flight. Elsewhere the playing is warmly affectionate even when it contributes to a view (shared by Vladimir Ashkenazy) that Ravel’s orchestration is Mussorgsky gentrified with too many rough places made plain. Danacord’s sound, while less vivid than from some, is fine and there are excellent accompanying notes by Malcolm MacDonald.

Bryce Morrison

MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition