Classical Music Sentinel

Divine Art Records move forward with their fine overview of Russian Piano Music , and now with Volume 8 they focus their attention on one of the most popular of all Russian composers, Modest Mussorgsky . The sound recordings took place in January 2011, and include one piece which receives its world première recording, and a handful of manuscript variants from Pictures at an Exhibition that see the light of day for the first time.

One would think that since Pictures at an Exhibition has always been favored in its orchestral garb, and that Russian pianists of legendary stature like Richter and Ashkenazy have already recorded the piano version for posterity, would be enough to deter any pianist from considering yet another recording of this masterpiece of imagination. But Anthony Goldstone is not just any pianist, and he still finds many new things to say within this old warhorse. The various Promenade episodes for example, are each given their proper emotional weight and color, and are devoid of the mechanical tendencies some pianists inflict on them. The Old Castle ‘s chant like melody is always very well phrased here. And as chickens peck the soil in a helter skelter fashion, with uneven and jerky movements, so is Goldstone’s rhythm in the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks . Both the Catacombs and the Cum mortuis in lingua mortua are full of flame cast shadows that shimmer along the dark corridors. Goldstone’s clever use of the sustain pedal creates the proper cavernous atmosphere. And of course, the closing Gates are given all the noble and stately demeanour they deserve.

One surprise for me on this disc is the piece titled Impromptu passioné . I never would have suspected that Mussorgsky could sound so much like Schubert at his melodic best. The earlier version of Gnomus contains a few bars of odd harmonic twists that were eventually revised, and the minor changes within The Hut and The Gates are enough to demonstrate how composers sometimes manipulate the same notes to obtain the desired effect. And the unfinished Nurse Shuts Me in a Dark Room (from Memories of Childhood) is here given its first recording in a completed version by Anthony Goldstone himself. It is an ambitious little piece that somehow very much resembles the efforts of a young Schumann.

Another fine addition to the Russian Piano Music series which, like its predecessors, does a good job of capturing the essence of the composer in one snapshot. It’s like receiving a picture postcard from Russia.

—Jean-Yves Duperron