Classical reviews: January 18

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Songs and Dances of Death, The Nursery. NZ Symphony Orchestra, Naxos CD.

Peter Breiner orchestrated all three works and here definitively conducts the NZSO. Mussorgsky's Pictures was written for piano, but several composers orchestrated it. Breiner aims for ''contemporary sound'' with unusual combinations of instruments.

Many parts seem wholly original and tempos odd, without exciting the ears. The Great Gate of Kiev still impresses, 104 musicians creating spectacular sound. Overall though, this new ''promenade'' rather bores.

The two Mussorgsky song cycles have vocal lines replaced with several solo instruments. Thus within Songs and Dances of Death is a violin solo in Serenade and cor anglais solo in Trepak. This work and the five-part The Nursery sound more acceptable than Breiner's Pictures.

Highlight: Mussorgsky controversially modified.

Ravel: Orchestral Works Vol.2. Orchestre National de Lyon, Naxos CD.

Venerable conductor Leonard Slatkin leads the French musicians in three delightful works that show their compatriot composer's flair for orchestration. The charming eight Valses Nobles et Sentimentales launch the disc, which ends with La Valse, that develops slowly in stunning style with a Spanish feel.

Le Tombeau de Couperin is a tribute to Maurice Ravel's friends who died in the Great War of 1914-18, as well as to the famous 18th-century composer. These use 18th and 19th-century dance forms and show his 20th-century harmonic ideas.

The fourth work in this collection is a doubtful inclusion in this series of discs: an orchestration by Marius Constant of Gaspard de la Nuit produced 82 years after Ravel's original composition just as a piano piece.

Highlight: Spirited performances show Ravel's talent.


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