Composer(s): Modest MUSSORGSKY
Artist(s): Zehava Gal
Conductor: Claudio ABBADO
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Chorus
Label: RCA Victor Gold Seal
Catalog #: 661354
Release Date: July 26, 2007
Format: CD (1 Disc)
Time: 54 min
SPARS Code: ADD
When the word "Abbado conducts Mussorgsky" comes out, most people would almost associate to the now famous live recordings he made with the Berliner Philharmoniker in the acoustically superb Philharmonie.
The above CD represents Abbado initial attempt at these works, during his time with the London Symphony in the 80s. This was a much younger Abbado, full of energy and passion. You can immediately sense it in the music, especially in the original version of the "Night on Bald Mountain", which was pretty much made famous by this CD.
Having heard both this and the BPO version of the Night on Bald Mountain, I'll have to say I prefer the LSO version. Technically speaking, the orchestra playing could be a little neater and tighter than the Berliners. But in terms of the getting to the meat and soul of the music, LSO triumphs here. Take for example, the wind section, the trumpets were screeching like witches in a crazed state, (don't expect the BPO trumpeters to do that as readily). You can almost see the witches dancing in their demonic fiendish delights (9:51) in the bassoon solo passage.
In my humble opinion, this is one of those landmark recordings that makes everyone else in the music world relook at Mussorgsky's music, especially the original version of Night on Bald Mountain.
Reviewer: Christopher McCoy (Customer Review from Amazon.com)
Yes, the original version of "Night on Bald Mountain" performed on this CD is much better than the Rimsky version. It's ferocious and almost terrifying at times. But it is Abbado's recordings of Mussorgsky's early choral works that make this CD such a gem. I have never been able to understand why these brilliant works have not achieved wider currency. Outside of Abbado, very few conductors have recorded these pieces (a Valeri Polyansky CD on Chandos Records has a couple of them and Abbado recorded all of them again for Deutsche Grammophon a few years ago but this CD is sadly not available in the U.S.).
If you are captivated--as I am--by the choral pieces from Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina, then you will surely enjoy Mussorgsky's early choral works. The choral pieces on this CD, though written by a young Mussorgsky, are no less inspired than those from his later operas. "Joshua" and the "Chorus of Priestesses" are from Mussorgsky's first opera Salammbo, which he left unfinished after completing only one act (Salammbo was recorded about 20 years ago in Italy for CBS Records but this recording has unfortunately never been transferred to CD). "The Destruction of Sennacherib" and "Oedipus in Athens" are independent choral pieces, both of which are quite striking and contain moments of great depth. To be sure, there is little of Mussorgsky's more 'advanced' harmony in these pieces, of the sort employed in the song-cycle Sunless, for instance. But it scarcely matters! These pieces stand on their own. The "Destruction Of Sennacherib" contains a central section that is supposed to depict the Angel of Death, which in my view is one of the most arresting and haunting passages in all of Russian--or Western--choral music.
I should also note that the Prelude and Galitsin's Journey from Khovanshchina live up to the quality of Abbado's live recording of the complete Khovanshchina on Deutsche Grammophon. (I have to agree with the other reviewer that Abbado is the greatest conductor of Mussorgsky.) I would frankly recommend all of Abbado's Mussorgsky recordings, but especially his Khovanshchina. If you don't want to get the entire opera, try the Sony CD with Abbado conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, which contains some further excerpts from Khovanshchina not included on the CD under review here. Anatoly Kotcherga's singing on Shaklovity's aria is profoundly moving.