MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhib. Knussen

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MODEST MUSSORGSKY
Symphonic Transcriptions
by Leopold Stokowski

Pictures at an Exhibition

Boris Godunov
(Symphonic Synthesis)

Khovanshchina
Entr'acte (Intermezzo) - Act IV Scene 2

Night on Bald Mountain -
Witches' Sabbath
The Cleveland Orchestra
Oliver Knussen
Int. Release 02 Feb. 2004
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DDD 0289 457 6462 7 GH


This disc . . . is a double homage, and a fascinating one . . . This is high class and surely highly marketable music-making by any standards.

. . . a disc to lift the heart and shake the light fixtures, a sonic spectacular that knows when to blast and when to caress, with a kaleidoscope of strange orchestral textures.

Oliver Knussen brings out the full colour in these vivid Mussorgsky transcriptions.

Knussen is a terrific advocate of these splendid, fresh-sounding scores . . .

Throughout, the orchestra is deployed with great variety and subtlety . . . The arrangement of music from Boris . . . is on a sweeping, cinematic scale, the "Khovanshchina" Entr'acte perhaps the most striking of all, with its unorthodox use of low, sombre sonorities . . . His rapport with the Cleveland Orchestra should not be doubted; it plays brilliantly for him . . . As I hope is plain, it comes highly recommended by this reviewer . . . For Knussen, the conjunction of Stokowski and Mussorgsky produces a third composer . . . whose orchestration is astonishingly original.

This richly textured sound alone is justification enough for this issue's place among the everaccumulating cabinet of Stokowskian curiosities.

. . . these recordings . . . suit the audiophile. . . impressive in depth and dynamics.

Knussen draws a fiery and atmospheric reading, and all the performances blend tonal gleam and refinement with bristling excitement.

Excellent sound and superlative performances . . . offer a counterbalance to the rest of my comments. Knussen and the Cleveland Orchestra are as sympathetic to Stokowski's intentions as one could wish in such music. They perform with a close attention to its broad dynamic range and color palette, yet never lose sight of the intensely theatrical element that was in its best one of Stokowski's greatest gifts. Time and time again, they play in a fashion that brings to mind the conductor's own recordings . . .

The 'Symphonic Synthesis' from "Boris Godunov", in six movements, fully captures the histrionic nature of the opera; with scoring in full Technicolor, it makes a huge impact here. Even more telling is the Entr'acte to "Khovanshchina", scored and presented here with extraordinary richness. Indeed the playing is superb throughout. The recording, made in the glowing acoustic of Severance hall, is in the demonstration class.

Ollie Knussen's resplendent recording of Stokowski's Mussorgsky transmogrifications -- grandiose and luxuriant -- brings up the hair on the nape of the neck.

. . . the eight whooping, Rite of Spring-style horns in the demonic ride of the witch Baba-Yaga are overwhelming.

The richly textured sound alone is justification enough for this issue's place among the ever-accumulating cabinet of Stokowskian curiosities.

Sergiu Celibidache, der nicht gerade im Ruf stand, Kollegen mit Lob zu überhäufen, schätzte Stokowski als "Meister der Farben". Die Klangfarben des Orchesters sind es auch, die Stokowskis Version von Mussorgskis "Bilder einer Ausstellung" prägen . . . Die Instrumentierung ist keinesfalls "dicker", sondern subtiler, rauer, fremdartiger, streckenweise auch grandioser. Und sie zeigt viel Sinn für das Groteske in dieser Komposition. Der Komponist und Dirigent Oliver Knussen und das Cleveland-Orchester legen sich für Stokowski ins Zeug -- auch sein symphonischer Zusammenschnitt von Mussorgskis Oper "Boris Godunow" sowie die Zwischenaktmusik zur Oper "Chowanschtschina" sind zu hören, letztere mit einem herben geradezu schwarzen Klangbild.

Knussen ne cherche donc pas à paraphraser le style interprétatif inimitable de Stokowski ; sa vision sait user du rubato, respire largement, montre une grande sensibilité aux couleurs, flatte l'étrangeté des timbres . . . et ne boude pas son plaisir devant ces envolées dynamiques que Stokowski maniait en expert.

Knussen donne toute priorité aux jeux de timbre, aux couleurs, et parvient ainsi à de "Tableaux" plutôt étranges . . . Tout est remarquablement en place (comme avec Stokowski, d'ailleurs), analyse, structure autant que possible . . .