Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.

Hyperion offers both CDs, and downloads in a number of formats. The site is also available in several languages.

Please use the dropdown buttons to set your preferred options, or use the checkbox to accept the defaults.

Pictures from an exhibition

composer
June 1874; Russian title Kartinki s vïstavki; dedicated to Vladimir Stasov

 
Musorgsky composed the piano suite Pictures from an exhibition as a tribute to his artist friend Victor Hartmann, who died suddenly in 1873. A memorial exhibition, featuring Hartmann’s sketches and paintings, was organized the following year and, fittingly, Musorgsky’s personal homage became the musical equivalent of a tour around the gallery. Pianistic depictions of assorted pictures are interspersed here and there by a recurring Promenade theme which represents the visitor wandering from one picture to another.

The evocative titles of the various pieces, together with the instinctive feeling among many musicians that here was an orchestral piece struggling to break out of its two-stave format, occasioned many orchestrations: the first made in 1891 by Mikhail Tushmalov, a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, and featuring seven of the 'Pictures'.

Sir Henry Wood made a highly picturesque arrangement in 1915, setting all the 'Pictures' but only the first of the 'Promenades'. The first absolutely complete orchestration came from Leo Funtek, a Slovenian musician working in Finland, where he conducted the Helsinki Philharmonic in the première of his version in 1922. That same year, a version for 'Salon Orchestra' appeared in Berlin, transcribed by Giuseppe Becce, a noted composer and arranger of music for silent movies.

Simultaneously, what was to become the most celebrated orchestration of all was in progress—that by Maurice Ravel. It was commissioned by the Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who knew of Ravel’s admiration for Musorgsky. The first performance of the French composer’s version of Pictures from an exhibition took place in Paris on 3 May 1923, and it was received with high acclaim.

At that time, the publishing firm of Bessel were still jealously guarding their rights in Musorgsky’s works, and they reluctantly gave Koussevitzky permission to perform Ravel’s independently-created orchestral version, on the condition that he would not allow anyone else to conduct it. Their conviction was that an arrangement of one of their piano publications would bring them no commercial advantage.

That Bessel were mistaken became evident as the Ravel orchestration proved ever more successful. Since Koussevitzky was to retain sole proprietary conducting rights in his commission for a period of five years, Bessel hastened to bring out a rival orchestration of their own. This they did by approaching a precocious twenty-one-year-old Russian-born pianist named Leonidas Leonardi who was at that time studying orchestration with Ravel himself. Doubtless the publishers were hoping for an even greater triumph from the pupil than had been achieved by the master, but in this they were to be disappointed. Although Leonardi dedicated his version to Stravinsky and conducted the Lamoureux Orchestra in its Paris première in June 1924, with the US première being given under Walter Damrosch the following December, it has remained in virtual obscurity ever since. (Undaunted by the failure of this particular project, however, Leonardi immediately took up residence in the United States and pursued a varied musical career in theatre, films, radio and the concert hall which lasted until his death in New York in March 1967.)

Meanwhile, Koussevitzky had taken over the Boston Symphony Orchestra and given the American première of the Ravel transcription on 7 November 1924. Five years later, he published the score in his own Editions Russe de Musique and in 1930 made the first recording of Ravel’s version, on 78rpm discs. The Philadelphia Orchestra, not wanting to be outdone by the opposition in New York and Boston, engaged one of their own orchestra members, Lucien Caillet, to make an arrangement which their new conductor, Eugene Ormandy, could call his own, and he too recorded it on 78s.

Leopold Stokowski, Ormandy’s predecessor in Philadelphia and a great rival of Koussevitzky’s, now entered the fray, pronouncing the Ravel 'too French'. In 1939, both in concert and on record, he introduced his own transcription which, with a lavishly-coloured musical canvas, aimed at a more 'Slavic' style of orchestration. Toscanini, not to be outdone by Koussevitzky and Stokowski, took up the Ravel version. He put aside (yet again!) his famous 'do as written' credo, and sought to make it even more spectacular by re-orchestrating parts of it himself. Meanwhile, back in the USSR, Nikolai Golovanov also took on the Ravel score. He followed Sir Henry Wood’s example of dropping all but the first of the 'Promenades' and did a drastic re-touching job of his own on Ravel’s orchestration.

In 1942, Walter Goehr (whose Pictures from the Crimea was still to come) was commissioned to prepare an arrangement more accessible to smaller forces unable to run to the large orchestra required by Ravel. Rather curiously, he dropped 'Gnomus' altogether and made 'Limoges' the first of the 'Pictures'. Of the many other versions that have followed, too numerous to mention here, the most notable in recent years have been those by Sergei Gortchakov, written in the 1950s, and the 1982 orchestration by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

This 'world première recording' is a previously unperformed arrangement by the British composer and conductor Lawrence Leonard. His version of Pictures from an exhibition dates from 1977 and is unique amongst all the other orchestrations in that, by retaining the piano as an integral part of the arrangement, Leonard has produced, in effect, a Musorgsky piano concerto. Indeed, this setting evidences a clear affinity with the 'sound-world' of other celebrated Russian piano concertos, most notably those by Tchaikovsky.

The opening 'Promenade' serves as a purely orchestral introduction, a typical start to any piano concerto, though an intriguing pre-echo of the solo instrument is present at the very beginning, where horns, trumpets and tubular bells cleverly suggest the sound of a piano with its sustaining pedal held down. (This 'Promenade' has been utilized as the introduction to a 'composite' version, taken from nine different orchestrations, devised in recent years by the American conductor Leonard Slatkin.)

The soloist enters with 'Gnomus', Musorgsky’s depiction of Hartmann’s bizarre sketch showing a toy nutcracker in the shape of 'a little gnome walking awkwardly on deformed legs'. 'Promenade II' is for piano solo, but muted strings then steal in to introduce 'The Old Castle'. Here the soloist plays the melody in both hands—an oddly haunting effect—and to add to the 'outdoor' atmosphere, in which a troubadour is singing in front of a mediaeval castle in Italy, an eerie breeze is distinctly heard, wafting through the battlements.

'Promenade III' alternates between piano, brass and strings, whilst the 'Tuileries' in Paris bring the woodwinds into play. 'Bydło', that huge Polish ox-wagon, lumbers past to a heavy, pounding piano with low strings and brass before finally disappearing into the distance.

The soloist is given a brief rest during the elegiac 'Promenade IV' but re-enters for the witty and humorous 'Ballet of the Chickens'. The next picture, showing 'Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle', has the orchestra for the pompous Goldenberg and the piano for the whining SchmuyIe.

Soloist and orchestra reinforce each other both in 'Promenade V' (the one omitted in the Ravel orchestration) and in 'The Market Place at Limoges'—a picture depicting a bunch of argumentative Frenchwomen. The interior of the Paris Catacombs, which shows three candle-lit figures, one of them Hartmann himself, is suitably sombre, as is 'Cum mortuis in lingua mortua'—Latin for 'With the dead in a dead language'—in which the 'Promenade' theme is restated in melancholy mood.

'The Hut on Fowl’s Legs' now makes a shattering entrance. The tiny Russian witch Baba Yaga, who eats human bones, is represented in Hartmann’s drawing by a clock in the Russian style of the fourteenth century, carved in bronze and enamel with elaborate ornamentation. Musorgsky’s music depicts Baba Yaga’s wild ride through the air in her mortar, and Lawrence Leonard makes the soloist’s part more powerful by having the orchestra take over the accompanying harmonies. Even more colour is added by the whistling wind, heard as the little witch rushes through the sky!

And so to 'The Great Gate of Kiev', where the piano is again predominant, thundering out those massive chords in the grand Rachmaninov manner. It brings to a close this novel 'concerto concept', so expertly applied to one of the most popular works in the Russian repertoire.

from notes by Edward Johnson © 2020

Recordings

Musorgsky: Pictures from an exhibition & Pictures from the Crimea
SIGCD2095Download only NEW
Musorgsky: Pictures from an exhibition; Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet
CDH55306
Musorgsky: Pictures from an exhibition; Prokofiev: Visions fugitives & Sarcasms
Studio Master: CDA67896Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Scriabin: Piano Sonata No 3; Musorgsky: Pictures from an exhibition
Studio Master: SIGCD426Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Musorgsky: Pictures from an exhibition & other works
Studio Master: MAR0553Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Musorgsky: Pictures from an exhibition; Debussy: Estampes; Liszt: Ave Maria
Studio Master: SIGCD226Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Musorgsky: Pictures from an exhibition; Ravel: Miroirs; Messiaen: Cantéyodjayâ
Studio Master: SIGCD566Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4; Musorgsky: Pictures from an exhibition
Studio Master: LSO0810-DDownload onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Movement 01: Promenade 1
Movement 02: No 1: Gnomus
Movement 03: Promenade 2
Movement 04: No 2: The Old Castle (Il vecchio castello)
Movement 05: Promenade 3
Movement 06: No 3: Tuileries. Children quarrelling after play
Movement 07: No 4: Bydlo (A Polish Ox-cart)
Movement 08: Promenade 4
Movement 09: No 5: Ballet of the unhatched chicks
Movement 10: No 6: Two Polish Jews, one rich, the other poor (Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle)
Movement 11: No 7: Limoges, the market place
Movement 12: No 8a: Catacombae. Sepulchrum Romanum
Movement 13: No 8b: Con mortuis in lingua mortua
Movement 14: No 9: Baba Yaga (The hut on fowl's legs)
Movement 15: No 10: The Great Gate of Kiev
Part 01: Promenade 1
arranger
1977; the so-called 'piano concerto' version

Track 1 on SIGCD2095 [1'43] Download only NEW
Track 1 on CDA67896 [1'17]
Track 1 on CDH55306 [1'17]
Track 1 on SIGCD226 [1'37] Download only
Track 7 on SIGCD426 [1'22] Download only
Track 1 on SIGCD566 [1'26] Download only
Part 02: No 1: Gnomus
Part 03: Promenade 2
Part 04: No 2: The Old Castle (Il vecchio castello)
Part 05: Promenade 3
Part 06: No 3: Tuileries. Children quarrelling after play
Part 07: No 4: Bydło (A Polish Ox-cart)
Part 08: Promenade 4
arranger
1977; the so-called 'piano concerto' version

Track 8 on SIGCD2095 [0'54] Download only NEW
Track 8 on CDA67896 [0'50]
Track 8 on CDH55306 [0'50]
Track 8 on SIGCD226 [0'51] Download only
Track 14 on SIGCD426 [0'44] Download only
Track 8 on SIGCD566 [0'40] Download only
Part 09: No 5: Ballet of the unhatched chicks
Part 10: No 6: Two Polish Jews, one rich, the other poor (Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle)
Part 11: Promenade 5
Part 12: No 7: Limoges, the market place
Part 13 & 14: No 8: Catacombae. Sepulchrum Romanum – Con mortuis in lingua mortua
Track 13 on SIGCD566 [3'44] Download only
Part 13: No 8a: Catacombae. Sepulchrum Romanum
Part 14: No 8b: Con mortuis in lingua mortua
Part 15: No 9: Baba Yaga (The hut on fowl's legs)
Part 16: No 10: The Great Gate of Kiev

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD2095 track 7

No 4: Bydło (A Polish Ox-cart)
Artists
ISRC
GB-LLH-20-01167
Duration
2'55
Recording date
10 April 1992
Recording venue
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Tim Handley
Recording engineer
Nicholas Parker
Hyperion usage
  1. Musorgsky: Pictures from an exhibition & Pictures from the Crimea (SIGCD2095)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: July 2020
    Download only NEW
Waiting for content to load...
Waiting for content to load...