"St. John's Night on Bare Mountain" is an arrangement by Rimsky-Korsakov of an intermezzo from Mussorgsky's incomplete opera, 'Sorochintsy Fair.' An orchestral showcase, this work is given a feverish performance by Bernstein in this classic 1965 performance. 'Songs and Dances of Death' is a harrowing work for voice and piano that never relinquishes the specter of death. Intended for a low voice, this riveting performance features the mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel accompanied by Bernstein at the piano.
The main work on this CD is Mussorgsky's monumental 'Pictures at an Exhibition,' originally a solo piano work inspired by an 1874 memorial exhibition of paintings by the composer's friend Victor Hartmann, who died in 1873. However, Maurice Ravel's orchestration of 1922 is the version that is best known today. While many of the paintings are now lost, we can hear between the renditions of the "Promenade" (meant to suggest the composer strolling around the gallery) a variety of moods that the composer used to evoke the content of the paintings. Or as Mussorgsky wrote shortly after the work was completed, "My spiritual reflection appears in the interludes. So far I believe it to be successful."