Lorin Maazel /The Cleveland Orchestra – Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition – Craft Recordings

by | Jul 26, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Craft Recordings releases first re-mastered vinyl of Telarc classical series.

Lorin Maazel /The Cleveland Orchestra – Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition/Night On Bald Mountain – Telarc Records (1979)/Craft Recordings [6/9/2023) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 40:39 ****1/2:

Craft Recordings is releasing updated 180-gram vinyls of several Telarc Records albums. Founded in Cleveland, Ohio by Jack Renner and Robert Woods, the label produced “audiophile-quality” vinyl recordings of classical music, featuring The Cleveland Orchestra, The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The Telarc sound was produced utilizing the groundbreaking Soundstream digital recording technology ( a precursor to CD), developing a four-channel, 50 asps recorder. Additionally, Telarc was renowned for microphone placement and sophisticated audio consoles. The analog circuitry was transformerless. Paul Blakemore’s mastering of these albums has stood the test of time. 

The first release in this series is Loren Maazel/ The Cleveland Orchestra – Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition/Night On Bald Mountain. Side One opens with “Night On Bald Mountain”. Mussorgsky’s musical tone poem was never performed during the composer’s lifetime. Five years after his death, Rimsky-Korsakov arranged the piece as a “fantasy” for orchestra, and performances garnered critical acclaim. When it was included in the Disney 1940 animated film, Fantasia (1940), it became a staple of popular culture. The Cleveland Orchestra (conducted by Lorin Maazel)  translates this eery tale of witches’ sabbath. From the ominous, moody opening with menacing accents on strings and brass, there is a plethora of dramatic moments, followed by processional and occasional muscular intonation. The sweeping counterpoint of reeds, strings and bold percussion underscores the atmospherics. There are also delicate touches like the introduction of a plaintive church bell that leads to a calmer interlude with ethereal reeds. This  materializes into the hushed solitude of daybreak. This is a visceral example of the unorthodox compositional style of this “non-conformist”.

The remainder of Side One and Side Two is the iconic (again published after his death) “Pictures At An Exhibition”. While this was composed as a ten-part suite for solo piano, subsequent performances were arranged for orchestra. There have been many recordings, including a live one from the progressive rock band, Emerson Lake And Palmer. The Cleveland Orchestra version is based on Maurice Ravel’s popular 1922 adaptation. Mussorgsky selected ten drawings from Victor Hartmann as inspiration. The opening and recurring Promenade (representing the observer) features trumpet and orchestral flourishes. The first idiosyncratic “picture” is “The Gnome” and features irregular rhythm patterns. After a repeat of the Promenade, “The Old Castle” intones with lower-register woodwinds and a haunting alto saxophone interpreting the melody. The third promenade is fuller. “Tulleries” is jaunty and festive, reflecting children playing. “The Oxcart” is unique and complex beginning with a lumbering tuba that transitions to a more sustained crescendo. The next Promenade is more upbeat with subtle woodwinds.

“The Ballet Of The Unhatched Chicks” is playful and carefree, an observation of children playing in costumes. On “The Rich Jew” there is a musical juxtaposition of divergent lifestyles with fuller orchestral articulation in contrast to the poorer subject voiced in more understated terms (less strings and a muted trumpet). The seventh movement, “Limoges…The Market” employs dancing strings and is concisely arranged. There is a significant mood change on “The Catacombs” with a brooding theme that also has an ominous variation on the Promenade theme. “Baba Yaga” is faster-paced, and feels like a chase with a slower interlude. The finale (“The Bogatyr Gates”)  is complex rondo with grandiose instrumentation and vibrant orchestral elements.

This 180-gram vinyl re-mastering of Lorin MaazelThe Cleveland Orchestra – Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition/Night On Bald Mountain is excellent. The sound mix is vibrant and details like percussion and reeds are very precise. There are incisive liner notes with interesting technical information. This popular suite would make a great introduction to vinyl collectors who are looking to add classical music to their library. 

Side One:
Mussorgsky-Rimsky-Korsakov: Night On Bald Mountain;
Mussorgsky-Ravel: Pictures At An Exhibition (Part One)

Side Two:
Mussorgsky-Ravel: Pictures At An Exhibition (Part Two).  

—Robbie Gerson

More information through Craft Recordings

Album Cover for Lorin Maazel, Pictures at an Exhibition

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