ABOUT TEN YEARS ago Galina Vishnevskaya and Mstislav Rostropovich recorded Mussorgsky's shattering cycle, Songs and Dances of Death in England. That recording, Philips PHS 900-082, is no longer listed in Schwann. On it, Rostropovich gives one of the most astounding demonstrations of his superb pianism.
Recently Vishnevskaya and Rostropovich again recorded the Mussorgsky cycle, once more in England. This time, however, Rostropovich conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and the songs are accompanied by orchestrations which Dmitri Shostavkovich made in 1962, and dedicated to Galina Pavlona Vishnevskaya who gave their first performance in Gorky on November 12 of that year. The new recording, Angel S-37403, also includes arias from RimskyKorsakov's operas Sadko and The Tsar's Bride, and Tchaikovsky's The Snow Maiden.
The orchestrations of the songs, by no means the first to be made, are incomparable, both in their evocation of the sound as well as the spirit of Mussorgsky, and in their powerful impact. No piano or painist can suggest the range of color and atmosphere that is instantly established by the orchestra. The orchestral version is nearly two minutes quicker than that with piano. And what phenomenal playing Rostropovich and the London Symphony put out in their first recording.
Vishnevskaya's performances are magnificent - by turns terrifying, consoling, and, in the end, brutal in their enunciation of Death's marshaling of his forces. To hear her heart-stopping "stuk!" in the Lullaby, or the way her voice tears at Death's command, "molchi" in the Serenade is to hear one of the greatest dramatic singers of our time. (For totally different vocal colors, listen to Vishnevskaya in Lyubasha's unaccompanied song from the first act of The Tsar's Bride. )
On another Angel disc, S-37464, Rostropovich, with the Orchestre de Paris, gives dazzling accounts of Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol, Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, Borodin's On the Steppes of Central Asia, Glinka's Russlan and Ludmila Overture, and the same composer's brillant Valse-Fantasie.