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This is the first volume in a short series of recordings, programmed by Barry Douglas as his personal homage to Russia. Each will pair one of Tchaikovsky’s major piano works with a significant other. In his booklet note, Douglas confirms Rachmaninov’s Moments musicaux will figure in a future volume, but here he has chosen the most significant of all 19th-century keyboard works, Musorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition. (Note from an Exhibition, not at – a literal translation of the Russian original rather than its typical Anglicised form).

Despite the focus on Tchaikovsky, it is Musorgsky’s epic suite – given here in its original form, uncorrected by Rimsky- Korsakov – that is the main event. Next to it, Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons (1876), miniature portraits of the 12 months of the year composed in instalments, is lightweight and charming, aimed at gifted amateur players. Musorgsky’s shorter version of Pictures is altogether more serious, a public statement commemorating his dead friend, the artist Victor Hartman.

Douglas’ performance is excellent, but he cannot disguise the fact that Tchaikovsky’s concluding ‘Christmas Waltz’ for December lacks the culminatory impact of ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’. I suspect one could close Tchaikovsky’s year at any month and it would be no more downbeat – indeed, August or September would make a more effective finale! Douglas is at least a match for Freddy Kempf (BIS CD2140), which I welcomed back in 2016. With Pictures, competition is keener; fine though this newcomer is, it does not lead the field. I marginally prefer Stephen Osborne (Hyperion CDA67896, coupled with Prokofiev): a more powerful reading, with greater variety of colour, on an instrument with greater depth of tone.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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