Sir Henry Wood’s version of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ dates from 1915. It was only the second orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piano set, the first being that by Mikhail Tushmalov, a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov. Like the Tushmalov version, Wood’s is not complete, since he omits all but the first of the ‘Promenades’ and makes considerable changes and abridgements to the music throughout. However, when the Ravel version appeared a few years later, Wood’s disappeared from view while Ravel’s became the pre-eminent transcription of the work, still retaining its place today at the head of over 30 orchestrations by other composers and conductors.
For a Proms concert in 2010 at London’s Royal Albert Hall, Sir Henry Wood’s arrangement was given a rare revival by the National Orchestra of Wales under its Associate Guest Conductor, Francois-Xavier Roth. Gordon Jacob once described Wood’s orchestration as “superior in picturesqueness to Ravel’s” with its astonishing array of orchestral effects. On the other hand, as the announcer says at the end, it is very “over the top.” No wonder the Proms audience went wild!