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Mussorgsky-Stokowski: Transcriptions. Pictures at an Exhibition; Boris Godunov; Night on Bare Mountain.

Mussorgsky-Stokowski: Transcriptions. Pictures at an Exhibition; Boris Godunov; Night on Bare Mountain. Jose Serebrier, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.557645.

As we know, Leopold Stokowski was not only a popular conductor, he also a tireless transcriber of some two hundred works for orchestra. Most of these transcriptions were of piano and organ pieces, like the conductor's celebrated revision of Bach's Toccata and Fugue or Rachmaninov's Prelude in C-sharp minor. In any case, neither of those works is on this disc. Instead, we have as the centerpieces of album Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain and Pictures at an Exhibition.

I have personally never cared overmuch for Stokowski's orchestral transcriptions. I have usually found them softer and more romanticized than the originals; and this certainly applies to Bare Mountain and Pictures, where I have always thought Rimsky-Korsakov's and Ravel's orchestrations more pointed and more faithful to the composer's intent. Combine Stokowski's soft arrangements with conductor Serebrier's soft readings and Naxos's soft sound, and the results do not exactly sparkle.

Take Pictures at an Exhibition, for example. In Serebrier's hands, it seems only to limp along, whereas, say, with Reiner (RCA/JVC) or Muti (EMI) it's colorful, powerful, riveting. I'm not sure if Serebrier's was trying further to glamorize Stokowski's arrangements or to tone them down, but the interpretations lack zip, excitement; they don't evoke the same magic as even Stokowski produced in his old recordings of them.

As I say, Naxos's sound doesn't help the situation much, either. While it is quite natural and well balanced, it's also a bit wispy, distant, and blurred. The recording lacks the strong transient impact and deep bass the music requires. Oh, well. I must admit that the less-known pieces come off best, the Symphonic Synthesis of Boris Godunov, Tchaikovsky's Humoresque and Solitude, and, especially, Stokowski's own Traditional Slavic Christmas Music.

Incidentally, for those listeners wanting to hear this music in multichannel, the recording is also available on a hybrid SACD (Naxos 6.110101), with three separate layers: 5.0-channel Surround, 2-channel DSD, and regular CD stereo as we have here. It's possible that some of the muted effect I heard in two-channel is the result of folding in the other tracks and that the multichannel recording might be an entirely different ball game.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:378
Previous Article:Michael Rabin, 1936-1972.
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