Simon Tedeschi (piano)
ABC CLASSICS 4811963
reviewed by Neville Cohn
If Mussorgsky had not written Pictures at an Exhibition, it is very likely that the drawings and paintings by the composer’s friend Victor Hartmann would have faded into obscurity long ago. But Mussorgsky’s musical responses to his mate’s pictures have given the latter an immortality they don’t really deserve. The music is immensely more satisfying than Hartmann’s often-prosaic drawings. Now, Mussorgsky’s work has become a staple of the repertoire not only as a set of piano pieces but also in various orchestral guises.
I’ve lost count of the number of performances of Pictures I’ve listened to over the decades – and Tedeschi’s recording is well to the forefront of these. It eschews virtuosity for its own sake and it’s clear that much thought has been devoted to mood and tone colouring.
Tedeschi very effectively evokes the sinister, malevolent nature of Gnomus – and
solemnity pervades his account of The Old Castle. Here, Tedeschi clothes notes in beautifully mellow tone; the playing has an unhurried, soothing and near-hypnotic quality.
There’s a delightful, peekaboo quality of children playing and quarrelling in Tuileries. And in Bydlo, the simulation of a lumbering, heavy, creaking ox cart is entirely convincing as is Tedeschi’s account of the delightfully delicate, chirping nonsense that is the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks.
In Goldenberg and Schmuyle, there’s a most convincing contrast of moods in turn supercilious and wheedling. And in Limoges, the market place, where there’s much raucous bargaining between housewives and stallholders, the presentation is beyond reproach, as it is in Mussorgsky’s take on the catacombs of Rome.
Also on record is Tchaikowsky’s Album for the Young. Frequently, one or other of this set of 24 short pieces is played by children at local eisteddfodau. Tedeschi plays them beautifully.