The connection between Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and Ravel's Miroirs doesn't seem distant, and certainly they've been programmed together before in recitals and recordings. Ravel orchestrated Pictures at an Exhibition, creating the form in which the work is best known, and the two works are landmarks of post-Romantic piano literature. German pianist Michael Seewann has a closer and subtler connection in mind, however, and it's worth considering especially for fans of the French scene. Ravel in his mid-twenties was a member of a group of musical enthusiasts called Les Apaches. (The word apparently means "hooligans" rather than denoting the Native American tribe.) Among their activities was the vigorous importation of Russian music. Les Apaches had a direct connection to Miroirs, each of whose five movements was dedicated to a member of the group. Seewann seems to take this collection of facts and use it to create distinctive interpretations of these two often-played works, linking them more closely than they otherwise might be. The connection is the episodic, programmatic quality of each work, not purely representational but unexpectedly breaking off to reveal the presence of a narrator, the composer himself. In Pictures at an Exhibition this is the figure "promenading" through the galleries. The result musically is a pair of readings that tone down the drama and virtuosity in favor of shifts in mood and color. This is an interesting approach, and as long you're realizing that you're not going to get a glittering, sparking Miroirs or an especially sonorous "Great Gates of Kiev," you'll be fine. The Leipzig label Genuin beautifully supports Seewann's aims. Academic but informative notes are in German and English.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Pictures at an Exhibition|