MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL:  Pictures at an Exhibition.  STRAVINSKY:  The Rite of Spring.
Philadelphia Orch/Riccardo Muti, cond.
EMI CLASSICS "Encore" 74742 (B) (ADD) TT:  64:21

MUSSORGSKY:  Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel).  Prelude to Khovanshchina.  Night on the Bare Mountain.  Gopak from Sorochintsky Fair
Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
PHILIPS 468 526 (F) (DDD) TT:  51:44

Perhaps Philips expected this new recording of Pictures to have the same impact on collectors as Gergiev's recent Rite of Spring (with the Kirov Orchestra), which was widely acclaimed by most reviewers (Philips 468 035).  Surely Ravel's orchestration of the popular orchestral showpiece is given an imaginative performance, but hardly superior to the finest currently available of this oft-recorded music—which in the last Schwann/Opus had about three dozen recordings. Two slightly off-beat bass drum whacks in the climax of "Great Gate of Kiev" (4:14 & 4:22 in track 15) provide an idiosyncratic touch. Recorded live April 28-30, 2000 in Vienna's Musikverein, Pictures has excellent sound. The other works are from sessions December 22, 2000 when Philips perhaps realized they needed more music for the CD.  Night on Bare Mountain surely is not the demonic experience I expected from this conductor. Even with the three added pieces, playing time is but 51:44 for a premium-priced disk.

The Muti recording is one of the latest batch of budget CDs on EMI Encore, a worthy series for the experienced collector (should these fine performances not already be owned), as well as for the novice.  Program notes are basic, Pictures has only 11 tracks when it should have 15; Rite has the required 13. Both are analog recordings made in the Old Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia in 1978.  Sound is detailed and quite vivid.  Unfortunately there is a lack of warmth and super low bass so important to both scores.  Still this budget issue has much to offer and at the price is a remarkable challenge to other budget issues.  The Encore series has many treasures including Georges Cziffra playing the Grieg and Rachmaninoff Second concertos (74732), his Tchaikovsky First coupled with the same composer's Violin Concerto with Leonid Kogan (74757), music from Wagner's Ring with Klaus Tennstedt and the Berlin Philharmonic (74762) and an important collection of Mahler songs sung by Christa Ludwig (74738).  For more information on the Encore series, check out EMI's website.

R.E.B.  (August 2002)