Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (Pletnev, Andsnes)



These recordings are so dazzling it’s actually quite hard to articulate what precisely makes them tick, but it does, I suppose, come down to just two things. The first is Mussorgsky’s musical genius: a compositional style so utterly and inimitably his own, and whose expressive power, imagistic potential, and sheer directness is simply without equal in the Western musical canon. It takes the impressionists huge swathes of notes and long detours from tonality to generate extraordinary effects, and yet Mussorgsky, using figuration considered almost revoltingly ugly at the time, does the same with a far leaner, sparser style [see Oxcart, The Old Castle]. There is also the structural cleverness of the PaaE, with Promenade (whose steady, casually disorganised rhythm imitates strolling from one painting to another) not merely recurring in modified form but actually starting to seep into the different pieces [see Tuileries, which is generated out of the figure at 0:51, Con Mortuis, Great Gate] over the course of the worl.

The second is the fact that these two recordings are really transcriptions of Ravel’s orchestration of the Pictures, as the many (musically justified) modifications to the score will show. They are examples of modern pianism at its best – drawing on every available musical resource, and a good deal of pianistic initiative, to create interpretations bursting with colour and life. Youtube tells me that most of the time people don’t usually listen to the second interpretation in these videos, but Andsnes’ Great Gate at Kiev is really one of those once-in-a-lifetime recordings, and if you don’t listen to both his and Pletnev’s you’re really missing out on something.

Pletnev —
00:00 – Promenade I [Note bass at 1:28]
01:38 – Gnomus [Modifications at 3:26 onward, in the LH, and then in the RH – turning the piano into, apparently, a fully sustaining instrument]
04:18 – Promenade II
05:14 – The Old Castle
10:32 – Promenade III
11:05 – Tuileries
12:10 – The Oxcart [The bass snarl at 13:53, and the change of timbre in the LH]
14:47 – Promenade IV
15:42 – Ballet of Chicks in their Shells [Note the lovely colours at 16:33 – Cf Andsnes in the same section]
17:10 – Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
19:43 – The Marketplace at Limoges [that little buildup in the beginning, connecting this to the preceding piece]
Promenade V excluded
21:13 – Catacombs
23:30 – Con Mortuis in Lingua Morta (Promenade VI)
25:57 – The Hut on Fowl’s Legs [for fiddly copyright reasons I had to substitute Kissin’s recording in, but this is a superb interpretation, and not that different from Pletnev’s]
29:24 – The Great Gate of Kiev (Promenade VII) [Note the beautifully muted, hazy beginning, which sounds like bells ringing from a distance, and which suddenly bursts into colour at 30:03. Also how from 32:27 Pletnev lets his LH get increasingly out of sync with the RH, which together with the hard percussiveness he generates in the LH creates an unbelievably powerful imitation of bells ringing. Also the huge sounds at 33:03, and so on.]

Andsnes —
34:45 – Promenade I
36:05 – Gnomus [Cf Pletnev’s modifications: 37:36, first in the LH, then the RH, with also the goal of creating a truly sustained sound]
38:32 – Promenade II
39:22 – The Old Castle
43:41 – Promenade III
44:12 – Tuileries [gorgeously delicate playing]
45:12 – The Oxcart [Andsnes starts soft, clearly taking his cue from Ravel]
47:46 – Promenade IV
48:29 – Ballet of Chicks in their Shells [Cf Pletnev at 49:00 – Andsnes has double trills, and the texture at 49:10 is drastically different from Pletnev’s]
49:40 – Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
51:54 – Promenade V
53:15 – The Marketplace in Limoges [Note octave displacements, scattered basically everywhere]
54:43 – Catacombs
56:44 – Con Mortuis in Lingua Morta (Promenade VI) [Note modifications to RH tremolos]
58:45 – The Hut on Fowl’s Legs [the ferocity at 1:01:10 is remarkable]
1:02:11 – The Great Gate of Kiev (Promenade VII) [the Horowitzian octave modifications at 1:03:29, the wonderfully subtle & bell-like scalar additions in the bass at 1:03:41, the sheer exuberance of 1:04:46 as the Promenade theme makes its entrance, the additional chords sounding at 1:05:11, the sustained Eb through the final page.]

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Fahad Hameed

Fahad Hashmi is one of the known Software Engineer and blogger likes to blog about design resources. He is passionate about collecting the awe-inspiring design tools, to help designers.He blogs only for Designers & Photographers.

30 thoughts on “Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (Pletnev, Andsnes)

  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    I guess i still need another 10 years to get into this type of music. Beethoven chopin liszt debussy rachmaninov still top 5 lol

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    This piece (like the Liszt Sonata) really lends itself to banging and Pletnev really bangs his way through it..a really horrible performance.

    Andsnes is more musical, but neither of them can compare with Evgeny Kissin, who gives a really brilliant and spooky performance, which is how it should be played…

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    Reading through the comments…I'm surprised at how many people are getting in fights over this music. Music is an art. It is built on preferences and opinions. I consider Mussorgsky one of the best classical composers because I love his music. Everything I've heard from him just resonates with me in a way other "great" musicians don't. Mussorgsky might have been a little unconventional, and I love that. Some people might say Mussorgsky is a bad composer. Why? Just because they don't like his music. That's a ridiculous thing to say. If you don't like a form of music, or any kind of art, that does not mean that artist is a bad artist. That only means that the particular art/music/ect does not appeal to you. And that's okay. There are as many art forms as there are artists. If Mussorgsky doesn't appeal to you, don't hate on his music, just go find a different composer. Someone who you enjoy listening to.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    While I respect the pianist, his articulation and note lengths especially are really pissing me off, as they just feel to interrupt the phrasing sometimes

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    I wonder what piano Pletnev played this on… Beautiful sound and dang cool tone.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    My gosh, does anyone actually play what is written in the score? Both performances here have so many modifications, and Pletnev practically recomposed the entire coda of the Great Gate of Kiev (which sounds terrible by the way), and Andsnes also makes huge modifications throughout. Just do what the music says.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    It's amazing, really. You can hear things which are the hallmarks of all the Greatest Late Romantic composers/some 20th century ideas in this piece. I can here some Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky sometimes, some Liszt, even Stravinskyeque passages. To think Mussorgsky was decades before some of them!

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    About a year ago I bought the piano score for this piece. It is prefaced with a message that says something to the effect of "the piece was originally written for piano, but is often not performed that way because it was thought that some of the harmonies were too daring for that time." Often the case, piano performances of the piece today often try to mimic Ravel's orchestration. Thus, we see a great deal of variation in how the piece is performed for piano solo

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    wow I was searching this so long and found I accidentally. 🙂

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    Probably because I can play this and I am also a composer myself, I would be mightily hacked off if someone mucked around with my work in the way this pianist has. The original is perfectly fine.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    Pletnev takes so many liberties with these compositions, and they are all eargasms. The last page is a revelation 🙂

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    With regards to "Bydlo", and starting soft, that cue is actually taken from Rimsky-Korsakov's edition. When Ravel was commissioned to orchestrate the piece, it was to be in the style of Rimsky-Korsakov, so it stands to reason that he would have used R-K's dynamic indication, especially here, simply because it's a superior musical idea.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    one of my favorite . I like many versions of this enjoyed Emerson , lake and Palmers take on it also .

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    It's very original and expressive. It has a lot of colours. Beatiful is the contrast p to f, like in the gnomus.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 5:04 am
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    I hate when someone add arpeggios in The Great Gate of Kiev :/ as if he knew nothing about how to interpret this piece… Maybe this pianist is a musical illiterate- like Mussorgsky himself ;P

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