"Every classical music lover should own a recording of the Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition as orchestrated by Ravel. While some may argue that his orchestration is too French for a Russian piece, it is still the most consistently satisfying of the many orchestrations out there. Beyond that, however, it is worth knowing that there are many other orchestrations of this piece out there (over 30 at last count--who knew?). Some of these were done while the Ravel version was under exclusive rights to the Boston Symphony (who commissioned it), a couple done before Ravel's, and many more done later. All of these have some interesting orchestration options on a movement or two, but don't seem to work as well as a whole. The solution? Well, in Leonard Slatkin's mind, the solution is to take one movement from many different orchestrators and create a complete version of Mussorgsky that way. On this CD he has compiled 18 different orchestrations (one brand new) into a fascinating alternative to the Ravel. It certainly doesn't (and won't) replace the Ravel, but for sheer novelty, it makes an interesting companion. The Nashville Symphony gives an outstanding performance of this "compilation", with an especially effective use of the their symphony men's chorus in the last movement. It's hard to believe that the same music could sound so different. The recording is well worth hearing. The Liszt Piano concerto is well-played by the young soloist Peng Peng (14 at the time of recording), but one gets that idea that's the reason it was recorded with him. His technique is certainly remarkable, but only time will tell whether he has more to say. Closing the CD is a very interesting arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner by Rob Mathes. Not the usual military arrangement, nor is it the sappy pop or Hollywood version, it aims to be more of a concert piece of it's own. The Nashville Symphony certainly gives it the star treatment here."
...and the American Way.
Kimba W. Lion | the East Coast | 11/02/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A facetious title for this review, perhaps, but what could be more American than picking and choosing what you think to be the best from 15 different orchestrations of "Pictures"?
The result, however, is both good and bad. Good, because it serves as a sampler of a wide variety of different --and that most people have never heard-- takes on a familiar piece. Bad because the result feels like a collection of separate pieces-- even though Pictures is intrinsically an episodic work, when one person orchestrates the whole thing there is a unifying feel to it, it comes across as a whole. Here, there is no unifying feeling, and that makes for an unsatisfying experience.
It *is* valuable as a sampler, though. Ochoa's take on the opening Promenade has to be the loveliest version I have ever heard. Naoumoff's version of The Old Castle for piano and orchestra made me want to seek out a recording of the whole of his orchestration (with Naoumoff on piano and Blaschkow conducting). On the other hand, Cailliet's Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks is nothing special (and Simpson's Promenade does not lead into it very well), and Gamley's Great Gate of Kiev did not live up to all the hype I'd heard about it, falling short of the awe and power of Tomita's version for orchestra and chorus and the sheer hair-raising excitement and thrills of Sir Henry Wood's version.
All in all, an important and instructive disc but not one I will listen to in its entirety often."
Liszt, Mussorgsky, Nashville: A brilliant Liszt debut plus l
Dan Fee | Berkeley, CA USA | 11/25/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Let's see, five stars. All due, all shining bright. (Mr. M and the other reviewers are so right about this one.)
One for the performers, natch. Hard to find very much mediocre or outright wrong, with Peng Peng the fourteen year old pianist making his disc debut, or with the Nashville Symphony under then Music Director Leonard Slatkin.
One star for producers and Naxos, who have yet another real tangible hit here (see Richard Strauss Alpine Symphony with Weimar, or both Liszt Piano Concertos with Nebolsin and Petrenko), despite some previous releases that missed their mark (such as the Richard Strauss Four Last Songs).
One star for the recording engineers who have used regular red book digital recording techniques to give us listeners a wide-frequency, solidly balanced disc with near-demonstration quality sound. This was recorded, Live, in 2007, in the Laura Turner Concert Hall, Nashville. Very good hall acoustics then. I guess this star gets shared with the hall.
One star for that grand old wizard Franz Liszt, who despite being a virtuoso rock star in his own lifetime, also wrote this music that just keeps on giving across so many later generations of performers and listeners.
Finally, one star shared for composer Mussorgsky, who wrote the piano solo original for the Pictures, and for composer Ravel, who orchestrated them on commission from Serge Koussevitsky (for the Boston Symphony).
Peng Peng Gong is brimminig over with talents. He's been making waves at Juilliard in the pre-college program of studies. (See: http://www.juilliard.edu/press/chinakit/articles/Peng_Peng.html) He is signed on as an Opus Three concert artist, though he is not yet even out of his teens. (See: http://www.opus3artists.com/artists/peng-peng). Rather than repeat what you can read on the biography links, let me sound off in agreement that Peng Peng is that real, alive youthful prodigy who plays far beyond his calendar years. It is enough to make a listener think of the folk tales of Old Souls who are reborn among us to help us grow deeper into planetary life, one species among all the others.
Outstanding qualities this disc displays? Well, physically, the young pianist has a solid, big, resonant sound. His bravura Liszt octave runs, for example, are ringing right out, musical. Not pounding for its own loud sake, but harmonically aware of that elusive thing, Lisztian structure. His finger work in the virtuoso passages show no weakness in either right or left hand. Peng Peng can sing out Liszt melodies with the natural flow, all the zippy flash, and an amazing amount of floating sensuality - all pretty much just as this particular composer deserves. Thanks to Slatkin and the band, PP partners beautifully with all the other players - remember this was recorded Live? And PP is partnered alertly by all the other players. Above all, Peng Peng and all players inhabit that other very elusive Lisztian magic that stems from a sensible and lively breathing rubato.
Oddly enough, Naxos has just released another catalog winner, with both the Liszt piano concertos played by Eldar Nebolsin, with Vasily Petrenko leading BounemouthSO. (See:http://www.amazon.com/Liszt-Piano-Concertos-Nos-Totentanz/dp/B001HBX8UK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1227643480&sr=1-1) Fortunately, at typical Naxos prices, the fans need not choose between them. For a full price CD cost, you can get both.
How about the rest of this disc?
Well that is where it really gets fun. Music Director Leonard Slatkin has assembled a cross-section of Mussorgsky's Pictures, orchestrated by fifteen different musicians. These include fairly famous names like the top-notch Ravel, Leopold Stokowski, and Vladimir Ashkenazy. Plus cognoscenti names like Leo Funtek, Walter Goehr, Lucian Cailliet, Emile Naoumoff, and Sir Henry Wood. Plus likely less-well knowns such as D. Wilson Ochoa, Sergei Gorchakov, Geert Van Keulen, Lawrence Leonard, Carl Simpson, John Boyd, and Douglas Gamley.
Frankly this could easily be way too much of a grab-bag thang. And nobody so far has at all come near to displacing the Ravel version from its high place in concert halls and the recording catalogs. Not even the formidable likes of Leopold Stokowski, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Sir Henry Wood. If I had to choose, I think I would nod strongly in the direction of Emile Naoumoff's piano concerto version, as a surprise new contender for attention alongside Ravel. (See: http://www.amazon.com/Mussorgsky-Naoumoff-Pictures-At-Exhibition/dp/B00005T7MY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1227644074&sr=1-1. Or: http://www.amazon.com/Mussorgsky-Pictures-Exhibition-Concerto-Khovanshchina/dp/B00004TZSQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1227644159&sr=1-2 )
However, Slatkin is a sly fellow. He has not just thrown the mix together from fifteen orchestrators, but kept an ear on the whole as he sorted this from that. So - the result is fun, yet musical. Each of the Promenades (by D Wilson Ochoa, Walter Goehr, Geert Van Keulen, Carl Simpson, and Lawrence Leonard) is a tad richer and more complexly orchestrated than the comparison Ravel. Oh wise Ravel, using those simpler strolls between pictures offers up welcome contrast relief. Walter Goehr's Promenade works contrast by string chamber music textures, for example. Gnomus by Gorchakov is thicker, richer, too. Hear the low orchestra as it growls, voice of the misshapen Gnome. Il vecchio castello by Emile Naoumoff is still enchanting, with a piano obbligato up high chiming away in echo of the section's main melody, not at all the superfluous distraction that one might expect from the sheer concept being tabled. Then we get Geert Van Keulen's brass band take on both a Promenade and the Tuilleries' children at play. Happily, nothing in Van K's approach is hackneyed or oom-pah-pah. The merest hint of even the slightest association with, say, a Sousa march or a folk-band Polka would have been the death of it. The transition between Goehr's Promenade and Naoumoff's Il vecchio castello is effortless, thanks to Slatkin's discerning ear. Van K's Promenade then marches right off in another gallery direction, as it should, yet the transition to Tuilleries is so apt as to forget the artificial mixing at work. Bydlo by Ashkenazy then heaves into heavy-wheeled passing, not starting to roll along from quite as much of a heard and felt distance as the Ravel. Bydlo's middle revs up the strings, then properly fades away. Carl Simpson's Promenade is all higher and lighter, offering another means of contrast, swelling again into strings. Then another effortless transition to Lucien Cailliet's Ballet of the Chicks. This section is also more richly orchestrated, with a requisitely Charlie Chaplin, off-kilter touch. Flow next into Sir Henry Wood's more heavily orchestrated Polish Jews. Next to the Nauomoff version, I would like the hear all of Henry Wood's? Lawrence Leonard's Promenade is touched by chimes, middle-voiced, glistening behind the whole band gradually gathering in. Then without shifting textual sonic gears, we go right into Leo Funtek's marketplace at Limoges. Then the low band leads us right into John Boyd's Catacombae, meshed invisibly seamed, into Ravel's Con mortuis in lingua mortua. On this, perhaps quite properly for effect, intrudes the groans and grunts of Leopold's Stokowski's more garish Hut on Fowl's Legs with Russian witch Baba Yaga taking haggard toothsome cartoon wing like an episode of Disney's Fantasia. Next, to the Pictures cycle wrap up. Douglas Gamley's Bogatyr Gate of Kiev starts off with a gong and chimes. Then the thrice-familiar chordal brass perorations, majestic and solemn as ever. Through strings and woodwinds we drop back to less intense interludes, so that the men's chorus can enter singing in Russian. This could have been odd and awkward, yet Gamley introduces the singing men with more than a touch of proper musical association with Orthodox Russian Christianity. I find the later, brief organ pass much more artificial than the men, since Orthodoxy has long avoided the western European church organ, preferring its choirs. A passing weakness, then, but not too dire. I think I do hear organ pedal notes reinforcing the band climax, and that seems fitting, not weak.
Are we done? Yes, but not exactly yet.
This disc ends with Rob Mathes' version of the Star Spangled Banner. It is way beyond a simple orchestration, and counts rather as a sort of fantasia on the famous anthem. Hat tips to Ralph Vaughan Williams, if you like. And, to those archetypally dissonant North American musical trail-blazers of the past century most modern, William Schuman, Charles Ives, and Carl Ruggles.
Did I say this was all recorded, Live? Did I say that Peng Peng's disc debut reminds me of another teen piano player, namely Yevgeny Kissin? Only time and work will tell if Peng Peng survives being such a prodigy. Did I say I like Peng Peng more than Lang Lang? Applause loud and long, to the band and the pianist and the conductor. Nashville is sounding like an emerging contender for big name status. Applause again. Did I say, Get this one? Just for fun, fun, fun. Folks, the kids are all right."
Slatkin's Portfolio of 'Pictures'
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 10/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The draw for this CD is the performance of a compilation made by Leonard Slatkin of orchestrations of the various parts of Mussorgsky's piano masterpiece, Pictures at an Exhibition, each section done by a different orchestrator. Slatkin has made rather a specialty of this, having played various combinations of the by-now numerous orchestrations all over the world. I remember hearing one when he was with the St. Louis Symphony, and I know he did another one with Washington's National Symphony. There is a recording of yet another compilation that he did at the London Proms in 2004. Each time he plays it with a different orchestra he seems to mix and match orchestrations by such different composer-arrangers as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Walter Goehr, Emile Naoumoff, Leo Funtek, Leopold Stokowski, Lucien Cailliet and many others. This particular performance with the Nashville Symphony -- and boy have they become a really fine orchestra! -- uses sections orchestrated by, along with the above-mentioned fellows, such artists as Geert van Keulen, D. Wilson Ochoa, Sergey Gorchakov, Carl Simpson, Sir Henry Wood, Lawrence Leonard, John Boyd, Maurice Ravel (!, he uses Ravel's Con mortuis in lingua mortua), and Douglas Gamley. Slatkin says he was put onto the idea of creating compilations of various orchestrations by a comment made by Kurt Masur about Gorchakov's orchestration. He investigated and was stunned and delighted to find how many different people had made their own version.
Many of the sections sound a good bit like the familiar Ravel versions, but there are some that are wildly different. For instance, Gamley's orchestration of The Great Gate at Kiev uses organ and men's chorus! Naoumoff (himself a marvelous pianist) includes a prominent piano obbligato in his version of The Old Castle. Wood's Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle dispenses with Ravel's muted trumpet and uses oboes and English horns along with muted trombone. It's like looking at pictures with different colors (and certainly different from Mussorgsky's black-and-white-drawings piano original).
All that said, the Nashville Symphony surely gives Slatkin all he asks for. I am amazed at how terrific they've become as evidenced by this CD and the one they made of Villa-Lobos's complete Bachianas Brasileiras Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras (Complete).
The 'filler', if one can call it that, is a creditable performance of the Liszt E Flat Concerto with a fourteen-year-old pianist, Peng Peng, a student of Veda Kaplinsky at Juilliard. He's a comer. But the performance itself does not erase memories of such fine recordings as those of Richter, Zimerman or Argerich.