MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition – Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Mariss Jansons – RCO Live

by | Feb 2, 2010 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition – Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Mariss Jansons – RCO Live multichannel SACD, 33:02 ***1/2 [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi]:

Jansons is not my favorite conductor, and I find little that he does appealing. However, with this new SACD of one of the perennial favorites of all time he scores a big win.

There is much detail in this recording that I have never heard in any other. The clarity has to be heard to be believed, and it goes without saying that the orchestral playing is beyond reproach. I do wish that they had cut off the applause at the end—there was time to do so—and it mars an otherwise almost perfectly quiet performance (only one small cougher at one inopportune moment). Otherwise this could serve as a first recording for many. But as you see in the head note, I have given only three and a half stars when it should have been one whole star higher. That is simply because I cannot abide the idea of only 33 minutes on a CD. I mean, come on! How about A Night on Bald Mountain (like Maazel does on Telarc) or some other Russian piece—there are hundreds to choose from. As is, this borders on being a rip-off, and even this fine performance would not be enough to coax $12.98 from me. Granted, this is not a lot of money. But for the same amount you can have another Pictures from Oslo with this same conductor on an EMI 2-disc Gemini set that contains other music by Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.

Or, to keep it to SACDs, the previously-mentioned Maazel on Telarc (2-channel), Dorati on Mercury (3-channel), and especially Reiner’s Living Stereo 3-channel that has many other selections and is the best bang for the buck. In fact, it is difficult to think of a better Pictures that has ever been recorded. This Jansons is a beauty, and if you can live with just this one selection you won’t be disappointed, but the Pictures world is a large one and Reiner rules.

[Normally I feel reviewers are overly-sensitive to CDs & SACDs that fail to fill up every minute of the 80-minute limit, but in this case it’s really blatant. The time length is just like a typical pop or jazz LP. We’ll soon be reviewing a DVD-A disc with 239 minutes on a single disc!…Ed.]

— Steven Ritter

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