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The best Russian work for piano? That’s what Richter called it

Michael Johnson’s history and comparative analysis of Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on Open Letters Monthly is well worth reading. The Russians have always valued the piano original, while those further to the west seem to prefer the various orchestrations. Take your pick.

musorgsky pictures

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  1. And Richter’s performance at the famous “Sofia recital” does it complete justice!

  2. Richter’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” is phenomenal- an unbelievably rich, powerful and nuanced interpretation.
    (Sorry if my adjectives find their way into your dictionary of ‘what not to say’.)

  3. Graf Nugent says:

    Ever heard Pletnev’s? It’s incredible. You can really hear it’s a conductor playing. Wonder if he payed Ravel his 10% on the way back from the recording studio…

    • Graf Nugent says:

      I can’t believe I wrote ‘payed’ and not ‘paid’. Sincerest apologies.

  4. Graf Nugent says:

    Ashkenazy’s piano recording is also excellent. I bought it as an LP years ago, with Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto on the other side. Now, that’s what I call value for money.

  5. Francis Schwartz says:

    One can certainly enjoy both the original and the Ravel orchestration. There is great beauty in both.
    As for the piano version, I would suggest:
    Richter, Horowitz, Janis, Berman, Kissin. and Ashkenazy. Each artist has something special to say and discover in this wonderful score.

    I would hope that both Yuja Wang and Lang Lang decide to record the Mussorgski “Pictures”. They should bring great firepower and youthful sensitivity to the music.

  6. certainly Richter’s performance convinces me of this. He sounds like he’s utterly possesed.
    There’re an unusual combination of brute strength and buoyancy in the ‘Gates of Kiev’-a remarkable performance.

  7. Piano every time. Richter or Horowitz.

  8. harold braun says:

    PIano with Horowitz,Richter or Kapell! And the previously unreleased Janis recording in the new Byron Janis boxed set of his complete RCA recordings is also pretty good! Orchestra: Sir Henry Wood`s Transcription,so gloriously over the top!!!

  9. For my part, I am more an orchestra than a piano lover, especially a Ravel orchestral pieces lover. So Ravel’s orchestration all the way.

  10. Scott MacClelland says:

    ‘Pictures’ is the most molested piece of music ever written. To date, there are at least 70 ‘arrangements’ in whole or part of Mussorgsky’s original. What price such immortality?!

    • harold braun says:

      Molested?Certainly not!!!Creatively rethinked,enhanced and developed by great musical minds.Well,there are some unnecessary versions among those 70plus versions,like the one for guitar by some Japanese guitarist
      I heard some years ago.But I certainly wouldn’t like to be without Ravel,Stokowski,Wood,Philip Jones Brass Ensemble,Horowitz.and,yes!,Emerson,Lake and Palmer.One has to see this arrangements as artistic contributions on their own and you should’t compare it to the original.I mean,the same goes for Stokowski’s or Busoni’s transcriptions of Bach and other masters.And ,as for the piano versions,the alterations of Horowitz,Weissenberg or Andsnes(to name just a few) for me clearly surpass Mussorgsky’s sometimes rather clumsy writing for the instrument.

  11. Stuard Young says:

    I heard Richter perform just once, in recital in Philadelphia. He began with “Pictures”. Amazing! Then some Szymanowski. Now that I am finally appreciating Szymanowski, I wish I could remember what Richter played, and how he played the two pieces. Ended with Prokofieff Sonata 7. Such great articulation in that final movement! Richter was the only pianist who could create excitement in that finale at a tempo slow enough to make it sound like music instead of a furious blast of notes. Yet it did not seem slow, it just seemed right. The articulation and accents made the music spiky, and bristling with sparks. Only one encore: the finale of the sonata a second time, even better! Will never forget it.

    • Yes indeed, Richter “could create excitement in that finale at a tempo slow enough to make it sound like music instead of a furious blast of notes”. But was he “the only pianist” who could do that in Prokofiev’s Seventh? It’s probably a matter of taste.
      For me, Grigory Sokolov ( ) is pretty darn good too (or at least was at the time of this live recording). And i wouldn’t be terribly surprised if there are a few others.

      • You have hit on something re: Richter, where the same point might be made with his interpretation of Schubert, for example D.894. (I’m thinking for example, of the 1st movement at: (Gould, for one, was enraptured Richter’s Schubert, though Richter seem impressed by his accolades.) Having been previously familiar with the recordings of pianists like Arrau or Wuhrer, whose performances are absolutely wonderful, this one was a revelation.

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