RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

CD Feature/ Andre Cluytens: "Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition + Ravel, Stravinsky"

img  Tobias

Andre Cluytens was a promising talent before WWII and turned into a critically acclaimed and famous conductor afterwards, albeit not into one with an outright super star status. A definitive highlight of his career included staging Wagner at Bayreuth for several years in succession – maybe not the most “typical” performances for a man who, despite being born with a Belgian passport, was a Frenchman from tip to toe: “Paris gave me everything”, he would later claim and even though that city does not constitute a pars pro toto per se, it does show how much Cluytens owed to France in personal and musical terms. He was a man with a mission who cared less for leaving a sizeable discography or creating an image than for bringing the composers he loved to appreciative audiences worldwide. And the composer he loved the most was Maurice Ravel.

The bonmot at the time was that “Cluytens was Ravel”, even though that would slight his acchievments with respect to the works of others. Certainly, Ravel turned up again and again in his concerts, even when one least expected it. The same can be said here: Even though only “La Valse” goes back to an original score by the great self-proclaimed classicist, he is just as much present in the main course of this delicious dish, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, which he transcribed for orchestra. Still the most popular version of the original solo piano suite (if one disregards the tons of popular projects which – like with Vivaldi’s “Seasons” - have made it a sportive discipline to record it in more and more bizarre arrangements), it leaves Mussorgsky’s initial concept intact and almost entirely restricts itself to adding instrumental colours. Cluytens, meanwhile, concentrates on linking the individual movements to each other in order to create a continous sensations, as well as clearly seperating them in musical terms. His interpretation is remarkable for its dynamic use of orchestral surfaces – the way the “Orchestra Sinfonica RAI di Milano” glides into the opening string chord of “The Old Castle”, takes some passages to the outer limits of apperception and builds up the triumphant return of the prominent “promenade” theme in the grand finale makes you believe there must have been some sort of post-production to arrive at these fluctuating warm fields – which of course, there wasn’t. After the climax, Cluytens inscenes “La Valse” as a sugar-coated dream of Strauss, always bordering at the precipice of a nightmare: The deep undefined bass pluckings at the beginning, the regular drops into minor harmonies in the middle section and suggested madness at the end indicate that this is a surreal rather than a sweet pleasure.

Both pieces were recorded live in 1962 and even though they were treated to a 24 bit remaster in the studio, you can hear that – the noises of the musicians and the audiences are noticeably present and if you prefer a digitally clean sound, then this will not be your cup of tea. For everyone else, it is a worthy document of a conductor who lived his love for Ravel to the fullest and whose insights into that composer’s work are both a treat to the ear and immensly useful for future generations of performers.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Arts Music

Related articles

Interview with Stefan Goldmann
"Both of my parents are ...
The Oracle Hysterical: Stravinsky's Hip Hop Opera
In a recent interview with ...
CD Feature/ Rossini: "La Cenerentola"
Magnetic and overwhelming: A spectacle ...
CD Feature/ Frederic Zigante: "Giuliani - Le Rossiniane"
Miniature operas for solo guitar.
CD Feature/ Peter Maag: "Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro"
Remorselessly catchy and relentlessly creative.
CD Feature/ Tibicines: "Battalia!"
This should be great music ...
CD Feature/ Mozart: "Unknown Arias for Soprano"
Even 15 years after their ...
CD Feature/ Bach: "Christmas Oratorio"
Marked by an irrepressible vitality ...
CD Feature/ Corelli: "Violin Sonatas op.5"
Makes you realise, why this ...
CD Feature/ Peter Maag: Johannes Brahms
A master in finding the ...

Partner sites