Slatkin Does Not-Quite-Ravel’s Pictures

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

This disc of “Ravel’s” orchestral music (Volume 3 in the series) consists entirely of transcriptions of originals by other composers, so it makes a handy supplement to many a collection. The performances are all quite good: idiomatic and well-played, despite the fact that the Lyon orchestra remains a fairly ordinary ensemble. The bits of Schumann’s Carnival, still comparative rarities, are particularly nice to have, while the two Debussy arrangements are pretty much standard fare, and even the Chabrier Menuet pompeux has had several outings on disc.

The oddity here is also the most familiar: Pictures at an Exhibition. This is Slatkin’s fourth recording of the work (at least), and his second for Naxos, with prior versions also for Vox and RCA. Slatkin earned a reputation in this piece for using composite scorings by a wide variety of composers, most notably in his last version for this same label. So he certainly knows the work, and this new performance reveals his deep familiarity. It’s full of character–the sharp pizzicatos in Tuileries alone reveal his keen attention to detail.

But it’s not all Ravel–or at least I don’t think so. First of all, the version is listed as having been made in 1922/2007. So who did the 2007 bits? Why omit Ravel’s orchestration at figure 9 in Gnomus (celesta backed by eerie string glissandos) in favor of a straight repetition of the music at figure 8? Bydlo begins loudly now, and the end of Goldenberg and Schmuyle has been adjusted to be consistent with Mussorgsky’s (less interesting) original. The modified timpani and percussion in The Great Gate of Kiev have been done before, but on a disc billed as Ravel’s arrangements why not just play it the way Ravel wrote it? I don’t get it.

The engineering is well balanced but very low level–turn it way up to get the full effect. Musically satisfying, then, but conceptually puzzling.


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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Pictures: Reiner/Chicago (RCA)

    Orchestrations of Chabrier (Menuet pompeux); Debussy (Sarabande and Danse); Schumann (Carnival); Mussorgsky (Pictures at an Exhibition)

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