Paul Lewis MUSSORGSKY Pictures At An Exhibition SCHUMANN Fantasie Op. 17

The pairing of the piano version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with Schumann's Fantasie, Op. 17, here is a little odd. The supplied notes by Roman Hinke point to an explanation involving the two works being less programmatic than they first seemed; Schumann discarded descriptive titles for his work, and Mussorgsky's little pieces, Hinke contends, are less closely tied to the paintings by Viktor Hartmann referred to in the work's title than generally thought. It's questionable whether this really holds up: Mussorgsky's framing movements really evoke a great gate at Kiev. But leave this concept aside and it's a satisfying performance of, especially, the Mussorgsky. Part of the reason Pictures at an Exhibition is so much more often heard in Ravel's orchestration is that it's a pretty unconventional piano work, sort of irregularly hewn out of musical stone. In its own time, even in Russia, it must have seemed all the more unconventional, and Lewis gets this radical quality even as he delivers a rather precise performance. In his hands the work feels more modern than Romantic, and one feels that he contributes something to the musical dialogue surrounding this work that even casual classical music listeners know, yet that remains imperfectly understood. The Teldex Studio sound from Harmonia Mundi perfectly complements the music's edgy quality. (James Manheim)

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