Good morning, campers! No BSO concert this week, as you might imagine, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to listen one of my opinions instead.
I was listening to the radio the other day, and the deejay put on the original piano version of Mussourgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It was awesome, of course, because it’s frickin’ Pictures at an Exhibition, but somehow it wasn’t quite the same without the orchestration. I found this especially true during the last movement, the “Gates of Kiev” bit, which has such a sweeping grandiosity in the Ravel orchestration that I found lacking on only a piano.
Which is not to say the piano is inherently inexpressive! Please don’t hurt me! If you want to talk about heartbreak, we can talk about Beethoven’s piano sonatas! All I’m saying here is that I find Ravel’s orchestrated version superior. And it’s not because Ravel (and Rimsky-Korsakov, etc.) is (are) so much better than Mussourgsky that their orchestrations elevate his music (I might even tentatively say the opposite, but let’s not throw another argument out just now). I feel the same way about Gershwin’s orchestrated Rhapsody in Blue over the piano version, for example. The piano version of Petrouchka comes close, but it still can’t edge out the full orchestration if you ask me.
So… what do you think? Am I a horrifically biased strings musician? Is it because the pieces in question have an expansive quality that the piano doesn’t quite capture alone? Am I not listening to the right recordings? Am I just plain insane? Educate me!