Mussorgsky-Ravel: Bilder einer Austellung is a volume in Deutsche Grammophon's Musik...Sprache der Welt series. It features legendary Franco-Russian conductor Igor Markevitch in music of Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, composers he knew very well and performed in a manner distinctively his own. Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in Ravel's orchestration was a specialty, and Markevitch's interpretation stresses individuality of approach above most other characteristics: he does not dwell on the opening "Promenade" but moves right into a bracing rendering of "The Old Castle" that keeps the listener on the edge of his/her seat. One will note a deepening of orchestral color in the "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks" and a slow, Slavic sense of gravity in "Bydlo." Fanciers of the trumpet will enjoy the clean staccato employed by the soloist in "Samuel Goldberg and Schmuyle"; in short, Markevitch's rendering of Pictures will provide delight to listeners familiar with it through the variety he accords to the work, and to his lack of patience with any laziness in tempo or phrasing. It makes for an interesting comparison with Leonard Bernstein's famous "Hollywoodized" recording of Pictures made five years later in 1958 -- it is less carefully paced and redolent with mistakes of various kinds.
From the Berlin Philharmonic, with which Markevitch recorded Pictures, we travel to Paris for recordings of Rimsky-Korsakov with the Concerts Lamoureux made in the later '50s. Overture to May Night is an extremely powerful, dynamic rendering of a work that represents the sound of the orchestra at its best, and the sheer control that Markevitch exercises over this French organization is in itself astounding. Le Coq d'Or is the sound of an orchestra "on fire"; Markevitch's interpretation of the Rimsky-Korsakov work sounds closer to the milieu of Stravinsky's The Firebird than any other recording. It is as though Markevitch is saying, "See? This is where Stravinsky comes from." The sound is extraordinarily good for this period, particularly in the stereo items (May Night and Le Coq d'Or). The one exception is the Russian Easter Overture, which is a little cramped and shrill, a typical result in some 1950s-era Deutsche Grammophon recordings. Markevitch has a horn in Berlin that will not stay in tune, but in Paris, he has an outstanding trombonist, so in this combination of recordings it works as a trade-off.