MUSSORGSKY/STOKOWSKI: A Night on the Bare Mountain, Symphonic Synthesis of Boris Godounov, Entr'acte to Act IV of Khovanshchina, Pictures at an Exhibition.
BBC Philharmonic Orch/Mathias Bamert, cond.
Chandos 9445 (F) (DDD) TT: 69:20  

Anyone interested in state-of-the-art sonics should not overlook this magnificent CD offering all of Leopold Stokowski's transcriptions of music by Modest Mussorgsky. Most famous is Night on the Bare Mountain, used so effectively in Walt Disney's 1940 film Fantasia. Stokowski's symphonic synthesis from the opera Boris Godounov is another of his most imaginative accomplishments. His transcription of Pictures at an Exhibition is perhaps not as refined as the more famous one by Ravel, but it has a vivid starkness of incredible power.

Mathias Bamert is a totally sympathetic conductor for this music. Stokowski made three recordings of Night on the Bare Mountain, not counting the one for Fantasia, but Bamert's is equal to any of them, with a beautifully idyllic slow ending. Bamert's treatment of Pictures is a dazzling recreation of brilliant orchestration, but the great gem in this collection is the Boris synthesis. Once again Bamert equals Stokowski's three recordings (1936, 1941, 1968). Obviously Stokowski had on-going ideas for this score; in his last recording (on Decca/London, with the Suisse Romande Orchestra), he added a snippet from the end of the death scene, plus a shimmeringly sustained string chord that ends with soft chimes—an ending he also used in a 1968 Boston Symphony Orchestra concert. Apparently this addition wasn't published, and thus is not used in the Bamert recording. Chandos' sound is their very best, wonderfully capturing this multitude of colorful sounds with a fine sense of space and presence. A fabulous CD!

R.E.B. (NOV. 1999)