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Jean-Yves Duperron
Classical Music Sentinel, October 2009

There are at least 30 or so different orchestrations in existence of Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky. Some of them famous, like the often used Ravel version, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stokowski, and others not so well known and neglected. This new recording presents to us an exclusive compilation by Leonard Slatkin, of his favorite orchestrations for each and every different section of the work. A very effective way of shining a new and varied light on the mood and character of each individual picture. Even the Promenade sections, the mood of each altered by the impressions of the previous painting, are more effective when treated by different composers.

Highlights on this recording of some of the best orchestrations, are The Old Castle, by Emile Naoumoff, with a clever and very effective addition of a piano. Vladimir Ashkenazy’s orchestration of Bydlo, with its darker brass and heavier percussion. The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks by Lucien Cailliet, with its clever use of varied winds to create the sound of multiple birds. The scarier Hut on Fowl’s Legs, due to the treatment by Leopold Stokowski. And, of course, the impressive orchestration of The Bogatyr (Heroes) Gate of Kiev, by Douglas Gamley, primarely a composer of film scores. Its use of a pipe organ and an ancient sounding Russian choir, creates the impression that the Gates were erected before the Middle Ages, and would stand the test of time far into the future, as a monument to the Russian spirit.

Whenever Slatkin performs this work in concert, these are his orchestrations of choice, and it shows in this “live” recording that he enjoys showing off these different, if sometimes “odd” transcriptions. The Nashville Symphony players are in top shape, and are certainly put to the test here with all the various and unusual instruments involved in this recording. The Naxos recording is up to the challenge of capturing all the sounds generated in this fine performance.

If you enjoy this great masterpiece, but would like to hear it as filtered through someone else’s mind, this recording will reinforce your love of this work. After all, having been re-orchestrated and re-arranged by so many different people, including the progressive rock band, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, proves the fascination this piece of music has exerted on musicians throughout time, and that great works like this will, in fact, live forever.

Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, March 2009

…young Peng Peng (16 at the time of this performance) gives a patient, heartfelt, and rhythmically elastic reading. Peng has plenty of impetuosity and technical panache (his jaunt through the Allegro marziale animato is especially refreshing), but he makes his strongest impression in the more intimate passages, especially in the surprisingly dreamy account of the Quasi adagio. A pianist to watch. © 2009 Fanfare Read complete review

Arther Smith
MusicWeb International, December 2008

This is a ‘live’ performance [of Liszt’s first Piano Concerto] by the, then, 14 year old Peng Peng. It opens strongly with an orchestral tutti leading to the first piano entry, played confidently and with great aplomb. This young player can negotiate the fiendish writing for the piano with an easy confidence which one only finds in the young. He plays the loud passages with a force belying his age, but also plays the quiet lyrical sections with great delicacy and feeling. Orchestra and conductor offer solid support.

The Pictures at an Exhibition is not the usual Ravel orchestration of 1922, but a selection of movements from some of the more than 30 orchestral arrangements of this famous piano work: see the list at the end on this article. Leonard Slatkin has performed this musicological ‘game’ at two Henry Wood Promenade concerts in London; the first in 1991 and the second in 2004. For those who heard these on the BBC, this is a recording of the 2004 selection, with the exception of the first promenade, which was then by Byrwec Ellison, but here by D. Wilson Ochoa. It is interesting listening to these arrangements how some composers are faithful to the score and spirit of the pieces, and others who are almost cavalier in their treatment.

The first Promenade has an air of expectancy and almost suppressed excitement beginning with the woodwind and including pizzicato strings, reserving the brass for the last statement of the theme.

Gnomus (orch. Sergey Gorchakov, 1954)

Gorchakov is the only Soviet representative and it is a relatively straightforward rendition, keeping the repeat identical to the first statement where Ravel employs some elaboration.

Promenade 2 (orch. Walter Goehr, 1942)

This arrangement is for a smaller orchestra so this promenade features solo strings, woodwind and brass.

Il vecchio castello (orch. Emile Naoumoff, 1974)

This is one of the pictures where the arranger has taken liberties and it is scored for piano and orchestra. The theme has been given to a variety of instruments in the various arrangements for this lilting Italian sicilienne (alto saxophone (Ravel), cor anglais (Stokowski) or muted trumpet (Gorchakov). Here the alto flute launches the melody; but the real fascination comes with the imitative, canonic lines added for solo piano. In this recording the piano is somewhat distant, sounding like an echo, which suits it well, unlike at the Prom performance where it was so prominent it just sounded bizarre—as if the pianist couldn’t count the bars!

Promenade 3 – Tuileries (orch. Geert van Keulen, 1992)

The previous dreamy picture is interrupted by this masculine promenade, pulling the listener out of the reverie. Then into the Tuileries with the woodwind very much in their element as the chattering children.

Bydlo (orch. Vladimir Ashkenazy, 1982)

The Polish ox cart thunders into view and Ashkenazy makes his impact with four horns in full throated unison emphasizing the tread of the ox labouring to draw its load.

Promenade 4 (orch. Carl Simpson, 1997)

A very conventional minor mode rendition of the promenade.

Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks (orch. Lucien Cailliet, 1937)

This is treated very exuberantly, with woodblock, rattle and a flutter-tonguing blast from the trumpet.

Two Polish Jews, One Rich, One Poor (orch. Henry Wood, 1915)

Henry Wood withdrew his arrangement after he had heard Ravel’s. The rich Jew is grand and well-upholstered in the piano version, as he is here, with fortissimo double basses and lower woodwind; the poor Jew is trembling or stammering rather than whining as in Ravel’s unforgettable solo for muted trumpet.

Promenade 5 (orch. Lawrence Leonard, 1977)

This Promenade was left out by Ravel and is at the halfway point. This arrangement for piano and orchestra made in 1975, 16 years before Naoumoff’s, is refreshingly original in its orchestral colours.

Limoges. Le marché (orch. Leo Funtek, 1922)

This is very much in the same vein as Ravel with the addition of a glittering battery of percussion.

Catacombae (orch. John Boyd, 1986)

This arrangement embodies the Grand Guignol horror of the Catacombs, which leads into the next picture:

Cum mortuis in lingua mortua (orch. Maurice Ravel, 1922)

No one has captured this in quite the same way as Ravel and it is fitting that he is represented by one of his best arrangements.

The Hut on Hen’s Legs (orch. Leopold Stokowski, 1939)

In this arrangement, Stokowski takes liberties with the score and the four trumpets and eight horns seem to have wandered in from another piece; he does very much his own thing. All very exciting.

The Great Gate at Kiev (orch. Douglas Gamley, 1980)

It is difficult to find a final movement which can match, or even surpass that of Ravel, but here is one by Douglas Gamley who throws several ‘extras’ into the mix, a peel of bells, a chorus and organ to deal with the ‘church melody’ and, plenty of bells at the end for this most Russian of finales.

The playing of these arrangements is very polished as one would expect from this quarter and the engineers have captured this ‘live’ event with remarkable clarity. This is an interesting collection and throws into relief how diverse the arrangements are. It also whets the appetite to hear some of these arrangements in their entirety; and gives us a useful ‘party game’ playing familiar music in an unfamiliar guise.

The arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner came in response to a commission from the National Symphony Orchestra under the conductor Leonard Slatkin. It takes the form of a eulogy on the tragedy of 9/11, but is not in any way tragic, it has a confidence and optimism which could only come from the American people.

Edward Seckerson
Gramophone, December 2008

New hues and colours as Slatkin rehangs Mussorgsky’s exhibition

Mixing and matching orchestrations of Mussorgsky’s Pictures could turn into a perennial pastime for Leonard Slatkin. This is his second exhibition, the first to be recorded, and the committee of composers (15 in all) continue to challenge the received wisdom that to out-Ravel Ravel is a mission impossible. Some would argue why bother? Others that the refinement of Ravel’s work, brilliant though it is, does not always chime so well with the rough-hewn Russianism of the original.

In any event, it’s a fun game to play and the rotations and rehangings could run and run. Here are some thoughts on my first viewing. An elaborate new opening Promenade (with bells on, in anticipation of the “Great Gate”) from D Wilson Ochoa (the Nashville Symphony’s principal librarian) suggests a lively, enquiring, group of spectators. I miss Ravel’s reptilian slithering in Sergey Gorchakov’s rather plain “Gnomus” but Emile Naoumoff’s “Old Castle” is a real find, its alto flute a wistful alternative to Ravel’s saxophone with canonic solo piano eerily recalling Mussorgsky’s original as if from some parallel universe. Vladimir Ashkenazy’s “Bydlo” is properly gritty in unison horns (fortissimo from the start, as per Mussorgsky’s original) and Lucien Caillet goes quite Busby Berkeley with his “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks”. I’ve always loved Stokowski’s “Hut on Fowl’s Legs”. Stokey’s bony Baba-Yaga gets quite a tailwind of gutsy whooping horns and her bloodshot eyes glow in the violin harmonics. I miss Ravel’s brassy triplets in Douglas Gamley’s “Great Gate” but who could resist the churchy plainchant replete with chorus and organ (though why not at the close?). The pensive and reactive promenades are well chosen—the Walter Goehr is especially effective—and the playing is efficient rather than exciting.

Quite where the Liszt First Piano Concerto fits into all of this is anyone’s guess*, as is thether Peng Peng will soon be up there with Lang Lang in the Chinese superstar stakes. On this evidence he is scarily accomplished, a 16-year-old with a 60-year-old’s nose for that old-world Lisztian style. And since we’re in Nashvilee, Slatkin signs off with Rob Mathe’s very filmic, post-9/11 take on The Star-Spangled Banner.

* Both works were recorded live in concert in the Nashville Symphony’s new home, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, during the 2007 National Conference of the American Symphony Orchestra League, now known as the League of American Orchestras (LAO). The annual conference was hosted by the Nashville Symphony in June 2007. - Ed

Rad Bennett, November 2008

Musical Performance
Sound Quality
Overall Enjoyment

Slatkin’s musical patchwork quilt works very well and makes for an enjoyable and enlightening listen, either one section at a time or in toto. Slatkin’s performance is attentive, attractive, and persuasive…

…this Pictures never takes off. Everything is correct, all the notes are in the right place…

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, October 2008

Mussorgsky’s Pictures were originally composed for the piano. In that form he created a spacious canvas necessitating something of a symphonic sound from the piano. This proved exquisitely demanding and only a few brave pianists, including Prokofiev, dared to scale its fearsome crags. Maurice Ravel, to whom we owe its renown, was paid 10,000 francs to orchestrate it for Serge Koussevitzky. But as one might look at and interpret a picture in many different ways so then different sonic paint brushes might offer alternative views and insights? Thus Leonard Slatkin’s notion to bring together an eclectic selection of arrangements, some quite outlandish, might seem fresh and appealing? 

D. Wilson-Ochoa is the Nashville Symphony’s Principal Music Librarian and former horn player. His neat opening ‘Promenade’ [1] was arranged, using woodwinds, at first, then pizzicato strings. This walking bass/cello line leads into the orchestral build-up, to give the impression of the visitor arriving at the gallery with mounting excitement and anticipation of seeing its treasures. Sergey Gorchakov’s portrait of Gnomus [2] is simpler, more sober and menacing than Ravel’s; his colours darker. Walter Goehr’s ‘Promenade’ [3] is calmly introspective as the visitor passes thoughtfully on; it features sensitive use of solo strings, double woodwind and muted brass. Emile Naoumoff’s entrancing arrangement of Il vecchio castello [4] has, at its heart, a glistening piano solo with woodwinds and cellos sounding the lilting Italian Sicilienne—absolutely gorgeous. Van Keulen’s ‘Promenade’ [5] is a much grander walk while his Tuileries [6] is a perky arrangement full of childish mischief and high spirits. Wind and brass are delicately mixed—woodwinds supported by muted trombones and trumpet—to create an appealing pastel. Conductor/pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy makes an impact with four horns in unison. Low strings and heavy percussion are used to underline the heaviness of Bydlo his picture of the Polish cart on enormous wheels [7].

Carl Simpson’s ‘Promenade’ [8] is brief and straightforward but with an unexpected cheeky cheep anticipating —Ballet of the unhatched chicks [9]. Lucien Cailliet was a student of Vincent D’Indy, His arrangement exerts his imaginative faculties to the full, out Ravel-ing Ravel. He makes exuberant use of wood-block, rattle and a flutter-tonguing blast from the trumpet. Sir Henry Wood’s vision of the Two Jews … [10] markedly underlines the differences between the two: the rich one glowering and overwhelming and the cowering pauper. The next ‘Promenade’ [11] (and the one that Ravel left out) is by Lawrence Leonard. It’s grand too, in terms of its rich harmonies and orchestrations; carrying on the self-regarded magnificence - one might say - of the rich Jew. Leo Funtek’s picture of French women arguing around a market square in Limoges, Le marché [12] makes for a snappy riot of colour. Funtek surmounts its challenges of articulation through its brief 1:26 of presto writing. The Catacombae [13] of John Boyd, demonstrates his experience with wind, brass and percussion. It is a haunted subterranean vision and is more menacing than Ravel’s portrait. It leads seamlessly into Ravel’s own arrangement of Con mortuis in lingua mortua [14]. As David Nice says, “the French master’s subtle halos and shadows remain uniquely evocative.’ That wonderful orchestrator, Leopold Stokowski, adds his characteristically vivid colouring to The hut on fowl’s legs (Baba-Yaga) [15]. This is a satanic portrait using four trumpets and eight horns supported by shrill whistling upper woods, to evoke Baba-Yaga’s terror-filling flight. 

The concluding The Bogatyr Gate at Kiev [16] is the most substantial picture. Douglas Gamley paints this massive gate in resplendent colours using to fine effect the chorus of the Nashville Symphony and an organ. What magnificence—magnificence to rival 1812! 

Liszt’s first surviving piano concerto was sketched out in 1832, when the composer was 21. It was only orchestrated 17 years later, with the help of the young composer Joachim Raff. Its first performance in 1853 at Weimar was conducted by Berlioz. Revisions followed in 1857. Its three movements are cyclically connected. This striking live recording of Peng Peng’s articulate and polished reading is sturdy in the portentous episodes and sensitively shaded in the quieter and more introspective passages. Slatkin gives sterling support. 

Rob Mathes’s arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra under its conductor Leonard Slatkin. It was conceived as a eulogy on the tragedy of 9/11. This performance—part grandiloquent, part restrained—is affecting. 

Instead of the familiar Ravel orchestrations of Mussorgsky’s Pictures here is an eclectic collection of alternatives, always colourful and often arresting.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, October 2008

15-year-old keyboard phenomenon Peng Peng had just wowed audiences here , performing with the Honolulu Symphony. This is really exciting, for let's face it—it's show-biz! What is an old fuddy-duddy like me, who grew up on Horowitz and Rubinstein, supposed to make of it? Well, I'd venture to say that given some more time, he could match and perhaps even surpass such a standard... As for this version of "Pictures", I have some doubts. Ravel's masterful orchestration set the standard, yet along comes Slatkin, who by his own account seeks input from "no fewer than fifteen different composers", including (an insignificant) choral finale. How about leaving well enough alone, huh? (Great audio, though).

David Hurwitz, October 2008

This curious hodgepodge of a disc begins with the Liszt First piano concerto in a straightforward, exciting performance by young Chinese pianist Peng Peng. Read full review at ClassicsToday

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2008

Orchestrating Mussorgsky’s piano score, Pictures at an Exhibition, has long fascinated composers, the conductor, Leonard Slatkin, here creating a hybrid using pictures taken from versions by little-known and famous names.

We have become so accustomed to Ravel’s colourful orchestration, it is difficult to think of it in any other guise, though at times you may find this an improvement. Certainly that could be the case in Vladimir Ashkenazy’s vivid portrait of the ox cart in Bydlo, andbe prepared for surprises in Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle seenthrough the eyes of the famous British conductor Henry Wood. Elsewhere composers show deference to Ravel by tinkering around the edges of his basic ideas. Even the Australian film composer Douglas Gamley, who added a choir and organ to the final Great Gate of Kiev, misses out on a deluge of cascading bells that could have closed the score in a plethora of colours. There are jarring moments when styles clash between pictures, the move from Carl Simpson’s Promenade to Lucien Cailliet’s Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks not one of Slatkin’s most inspired moments. The result will titillate and, hopefully, remind you there are many worthwhile alternatives to Ravel. The unusual choice of coupling comes from the fact that this is a concert given by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, the Liszt Piano Concerto forming part of the evening. The soloist is the gifted sixteen-year-old Chinese-born, Peng Peng, presently studying at New York’s Juilliard School of Music [he was fourteen at the time of the recording]. He brushes aside the work’s technical demands, his account strongly poetic and with touches of his own personality in the moulding of phrases. Tempos are at times lovingly spacious, and even in an overcrowded catalogue of performances, Peng Peng would feature highly. Good accompaniment, the orchestra adding Rob Mathes arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner as a eulogy on the tragic events of the terrorist attack on New York’s twin towers.

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