André Cluytens

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Ravel: Piano Concerto; La Valse

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There comes a point where digital remastering of historic recordings becomes more like digital meddling. Such is certainly the case with this Archipel Desert Island Collection disc of conductor André Cluytens conducting Ravel's G major Piano Concerto and La Valse, as well as Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The cover of the album entices listeners with the claim "remastered with 24-bit superb sound." Remastered, yes; superb, definitely not. All that was really achieved was the elimination of hiss, but the cost to the sound quality is far too steep. Ravel's deeply intricate piano concerto is at such a low level that the coughs from the live audience are often louder than the piano and the whole performance is analogous to listening to a concert from the lobby. On the flip side, the frequent brass chorales and powerful tutti passages in the Mussorgsky completely overwhelm the microphone and hideously distort the sound. The performances themselves, however, are quite nice. The star of the show is the delicate and refined performance (when you can hear her) of pianist Monique Haas and her sensitive interpretation of the Ravel concerto. Cluytens' leadership of the Mussorgsky is energetic and animated, keeping with what would be expected from this famous French conductor. The sound quality really sinks this album, though, and it is not recommended for anyone but die-hard aficionados of historical recordings.

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