Claudio Abbado conducts Mussorgsky
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
RCA Legacy, 1992
This is one of the most beautiful and interesting recording devoted to the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky I have ever heard: beautiful, because Claudio Abbado finds some new, unexpected colours which give new shine to the compositions – and interesting especially because he chose to perform the original version of Night on Bald Mountain and not the one reorchestrated by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.
The compositions collected in this album are pieces from operas (from Khovanshchina and Salammbò) and works as the chorus Joshua, the Scherzo in B flat, the chorus Destruction of Sennacherib, the incidental music for Oedipus in Athens (of which only this chorus survived) and the Triumphant March, composed for an event celebrating the reign of Alexander II – alongside the most famous piece, the aforementioned Night on Bald Mountain.
The meeting between Abbado and Mussorgsky is a successful one since they are made to understand each other to perfection. It is clear that Abbado’s intention was to create a forceful album, through which he intended to impress the listener with Mussorgsky’s musical audacity and inventiveness. These works are rich in intensity and tension and enlighten the chthonian strength of the Russian composer’s music, but also its rough sensitivity and vigour. Night on Bald Mountain is the most representative piece and its nervous, disturbed character is the one which remains more impressed in the listener’s mind, but the Prelude to Khovanshchina seems to object to the previous one with its quietness, even if sometimes restlessness is spreading in it too, and other pieces are even more evocative, such as the chorus Joshua and its melodies that the lovers of Slavic music will find familiar. The short Scherzo, on the other hand, is an unusually witty piece which shines among the other, more serious compositions.
Abbado is able to bring unity to Mussorgsky’s compositions, but also to stress their different natures and to add to them greatness and energy which are not out of place in the composer’s style.