A Superbly “Unorthodox” Mussorgsky Program

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 8

I suspect that “Unorthodox Music” refers as much to the program concept behind this release as it does to Mussorgsky’s utter originality. Soprano Claire Booth and pianist Christopher Glynn have created a 70-minute recital that ingeniously intersperses songs with solo piano pieces. The selections are organized into thematic subgroups that take the listener through The Nursery and Youthful Years to Marriage and Loneliness. Yet one doesn’t need to grasp the programming trajectory in order to appreciate the composer’s extraordinary inventiveness and expressive immediacy.

Many of the songs are veritable mini-operas, packed with sudden changes of mood, quick dynamic shifts, and volatile juxtapositions of dramatic and lyrical vocal writing. Take “Hobby Horse” from The Nursery, for example, with its onomatopoeic phrases that are both playful and petulant. On the other hand, Mussorgsky’s introspective side conveys a haunting and evocative fragility, as in “From My Tears”, or the “Cum mortuis in lingua morta” movement from Pictures at an Exhibition.

Claire Booth’s light and agile soprano voice navigates Mussorgsky’s wide interval leaps with ease, while her superb diction and rhythmic pointing bring stylish vividness to more extroverted songs without a trace of vulgarity (Trepak from Songs and Dances of Death and the Hopak are good cases in point). And Christopher Glynn proves as masterful and authoritative by himself as in a collaborative capacity. He projects a sustained calm in the closing selection Reverie that easily holds its own alongside recordings by well-known soloists. While the slightly diffuse sonics could be more robust for my taste, they plausibly replicate a concert hall perspective. Highly recommended.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Unorthodox Music
Reference Recording: None for this collection

  • Claire Booth (soprano); Christopher Glynn (piano)

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