Pictures at an Exhibition

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition

I first heard this piece some 60 years ago, when my father took me to a traditional 11 AM concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at their hall, the Musikvereinsahl in Vienna. The family was spending a year in Europe, and this seemed a worthwhile way to assure that the 15 – year old lad got a “cultural experience”. I recall this event as though it took place last week…

The composer created this piece based on his walk in a museum; and the piece returns to a fixed theme representing the composer’s stroll between various paintings. The composition was originally scored for solo piano; however, later the master orchestrator Maurice Ravel created an orchestral version which we hear in this recording performed by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

The musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic are particularly brilliant in this large-scale pictorial work; their wonderful technique, stunning tone and fine musicianship have never been more evident than here. Listen to those deep brasses, the expressive tone of their strings, and the intimate lyricism of the woodwinds and you will appreciate why this orchestra is considered so special. This is a vivid multi-color performance with Sir Simon Rattle bringing the needed passion to this piece. The huge orchestral finale with its mighty reverberating gongs seems to magically picture for us the Great Gate of Kiev in our imagination and it is really thrilling.

The accompanying piece on this DVD is the Borodin Symphony No. 2, which is a lyrical masterpiece that evokes more of Russia. Sir Simon and the orchestra emphasize the sheer beauty and yearning soulfulness of this work. The strings play with excellent softness in the most lyrical moments, while the more forceful ones are presented with understated power by the brasses and winds. Sir Simon is always completely appropriate in his choice of tempo, texture and dynamics. I expect that you’ll enjoy these performances by one of the world’s finest orchestras.

Here are two highlights from this DVD:

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