MUSSORGSKY is generally represented in orchestral programs by only two works, neither of which is wholly his own. He wrote "Pictures at an Exhibition" as a suite for piano, but it has become far more familiar in the brilliant orchestral realization by Ravel. "Night on Bald Mountain," which Mussorgsky tried out in several versions, is known to us now in the similarly brilliant edition by Rimsky-Korsakov.
As Reval was not the only composer to produce an orchestral setting of the "Pictures," Rimsky-Korsakov was not the only one to edit or arrange "Night on Bald Mountain." Other versions of both works have been performed and recorded. It happens, however, that Mussorgsky himself did complete "Night on Bald Mountain" as an orchestral work; it was, in fact, his most ambitious orchestral score.
This "original version" was not published until 1968. It was recorded about that time by the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Welsh conductor and musicologist David Lloyd-Jones; that Philips record never reached our shores and has been deleted in England, but a stunning new recording by Claudio Abbado and the London Synphony Orchestra has been issued by RCA, as part of a collection of Mussorgsky orchestral and choral works to which Lloyd-Jones has contributed invaluably informative annotation (ARL1-3988).
In addition to the utterly different version of "Night on Bald Mountain" (in which motifs made prominent by Rimsky-Korsakov are far less so) and the familiar Prelude to and Act IV Entr'acte from "Khovanshchina," there are two minor but ingratiating orchestral pieces -- the Triumphal March "The Capture of Kars" and the Scherzo in B Flat -- and the four choral ones that Abbado has presented in his guest appearances with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra: the Chorus of Priestesses from "Salammbo," the independent piece "Joshua" (actually a reworking of the Libyans' Battle Hymn from the same Flaubert-derived opera), the Chorus of the People in the Temple from the incidental music for Ozerov's "Oedipus in Athens," and a setting of Byron's "Destruction of Sennacherio."
These choral pieces, like the original version of "Night on Bald Mountain," are exciting discoveries, fairly brimming with originality, intensity and the most striking colors. The performances are simply magnigicent, in the two familiar items as well as the lesser-known ones. s(Zehava Gal, whose Washington appearances earned such favorable notice, is the solo contralto in "Joshua.") The sound is quite splendid, and Lloyd-Jones' notes, already acknowledged, cannot be praised too highly for the clarifying light they shed. Altogether an outstanding release.
Another interesting, if far less exciting, record of little-known Russian music came from Arabesque a short time back. On 8072 (cassette 9072) Aldo Ceccato conducts the Bamberg Symphony in a Glinka program: three dances from "A Life for the Tsar," the second of the two "Spanish Overtures" ("Summer Night in Madrid"), and a suite from the incidental music to Nestor Kukolnik's play "Prince Kholmsky" that seems not to have been recorded before.
The dances from "A Life for the Tsar" are done with great spirit, at least a match for Siegfried Koshler's performance with the Philharmonia Hungarica on Turnabout, but I wish the vivacious Mazurka had been included. hKoehler prefaced the dances with the opera's Overture: the Mazurka has not been recorded, apparently, since Efrem Kurtz did it with the New York Philharmonic some 35 years ago, and it's too good a piece to be so ignored.
Ceccato compares well with Svetlanov and Perla in "Summer Night in Madrid" and benefits from superior sound. If the "Prince Kholmsky" material seems less fetching, it is not his fault; Glinka simply did not put into this score anything like the ingratiating rhythms and infectious tunes with which he filled the others represented here. It's an interesting quarter-hour, though, and one can hear exactly why Tchaikovsky compared the "Kholmsky" music with Beethoven. Fine notes again, by Peter Eliot Stone. "