The second in the current batch of streamed events from Sinfonia Viva sees the orchestra's wind principals - Rachel Holt, flute; Maddy Aldis-Evans, oboe; Chris Swann, clarinet; Richard Ion, bassoon and Richard Lewis, horn - in Derby Museum's Joseph Wright Gallery (Derby, UK) playing Musorgsky's Pictures From an Exhibition, in the transcription by German flautist and arranger Joachim Linckelmann.
Chris Swann introduces the performance, and with Matthew Edwards, the Museum's Curator of Visual Art and the Joseph Write Study Room, draws parallels between Wright's career and that of Viktor Hartmann, commemorated in Musorgsky's work. They miss a trick, though, by not mentioning that, thanks to Catherine the Great, there is a Joseph Wright in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. We are shown the relevant Hartmann pictures that survive - not all of them do - but dividing the work up into three sections, with commentary following 'Bydło' and 'Catacombs' diminishes its cumulative impact.
The players project the changing character of the Promenade as it recurs throughout the piece. The opening one sets out firmly, after which there is plenty of grotesquerie in 'Gnomus', and the bassoon brings plangent melancholy to 'The Old Castle'. A brisk take on 'The Tuileries' is contrasted with a suitably weighty reading of 'Bydło'. Unfortunately Linckelmann (I assume) goes for the now discredited quiet opening of Rimsky-Korsakov's edition, rather than the loud start of Musorgsky's original.
Wind instruments are obviously ideal for the squawking and clucking 'Chicks in their Shells', and the quintet makes full use of the opportunity, before bringing out the contrasts in tone-colour of the two character-portraits, 'Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle'.
'Limoges - The Market Place' is nicely fleet-footed, 'Catacombs' full of atmosphere. In 'The Hut on Chicken’s Legs' we're made aware of its structural function in balancing 'Gnomus', and there's a nicely wheedling bassoon solo in the central section. 'The Great Gate at Kiev' is properly grand and sonorous, with the instrumentation, again, particularly apt for the chant-like sections.
The few caveats aside, then, this is an enjoyable walk through Musorgsky's picture-gallery, and Linckelmann's transcription is colourful and inventive. I can see it becoming a Sinfonia Viva party-piece.
Copyright © 24 March 2021