Symphony No.4 in F-minor, Op.36
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition
London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at Barbican Hall, London – Tchaikovsky on 29 October & 1 November 2017, and Pictures on 3 June 2018
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2019
CD No: LSO LIVE LSO0810 [SACD]
Duration: 74 minutes
A fine start to February reviewing (this LSO Live issue is available from the Eighth), even if the Tchaikovsky is a little subdued to begin with, more a warning from afar than establishing Fate’s dire summons, for Gianandrea Noseda is playing the long game with the first movement of the Fourth Symphony, giving it symphonic credence and building emotions by stealth. It’s not the most exciting, thrilling or passionate account available – and, god knows, there’s many of them out there – but with the LSO excellent in ensemble and debonair with dynamics, Noseda, more Moderato than con anima, is able to weld the balletic episodes into the whole, and turn the emotive screw that bit tighter as the movement progresses, without exaggeration and plenty of consideration (strings always audible), so that the latter stages of the development are more ignited, following which some expressive horn- and woodwind-playing, and with something saved for a sprinting coda. The middle movements fare especially well, lovely oboe solo to open the second and Noseda appreciates this wistful music also has its dark side, and the pizzicatos are pristine in the third and given with a diverting variety of volumes, the Trio’s processional light on its feet. We have to wait a couple of seconds too long for the Finale to crash in dramatically, and when it does it is with festive esprit. When Fate returns it does so with greater vengeance than before, but the coda signals victory.
This admirably clear-sighted account is followed – following a decent pause – by a vividly characterised Pictures at an Exhibition, a long-familiar score that here receives a tiramisu reading, nothing glossed over yet with nothing that plays to the gallery either. There’s some great playing (deft, sonorous, sensitive), not least from trumpeter David Elton, quite outstanding as the shivering Schmuÿle, so too saxophonist Simon Haram in ‘The Old Castle’, a little more-flowing than can be, to advantage, aged mists remaining in place, and ‘Bydlo’, bookended by Dudley Bright’s mellifluous euphonium, has the remorseless tread it can lack. The treat here is that Mussorgsky’s individuality and, welded to it, Ravel’s painstaking orchestration are not taken for granted or abused for showmanship; rather this interpretation has an insider’s-knowledge quality to it, culminating with a majestic ‘Great Gate of Kiev’. No shortage of versions of either work, of course, but this is a shortlist release, for Pictures especially, very well recorded and neatly tidied to studio standard.