This new section of the blog deals with cds (or black discs, even cassettes for that matter) in your collection that are either lost and found or the victim of the ‘over-familiar gaze’, meaning, filed in practice rather than in the memory. You often forget about them – then suddenly notice … hey, I haven’t played (in this case) Philip Jordan’s 2016 Paris National Opera Orchestra recording of Ravel’s take on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony (Erato 0190295877910) in a while. Let me remind myself of its virtues, or lack of them. And it was finding this disc – which had quite literally fallen between my shelves – that prompted me to start this column. I’d love you to respond with some of your own impromptu ‘rediscoveries’.
Jordan’s Mussorgsky/Ravel is masterfully balanced and paced. Take ‘The Old Castle’ where behind the saxophone the quietened orchestra – the strings especially – enhance the sullen mood. Or the tonal depth of ‘Bydlo’, the bright, mischievous cavorting of the unhatched chicks (such well articulated playing and superb sound) and ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’, wealth and poverty in contrast, Jordan drawing form his unison strings a huge sonority, though wealth and pity combine so that Schmuyle’s jittery entreaties are not entirely wasted. And what a relief that for once ‘Limoges’ doesn’t leap at ‘Catacombae’ like a badly managed tape edit. Here the quiet string playing is magical. Interesting that the booklet prints ‘Baba Yaga’ and the ‘Bogatyr Gates’ (ie, of Kiev) in Cyrillic as well as in English. Why? Well, a possible reason is that Jordan’s graphically etched readings convey the essence of Old Russia. In ‘Baba Yaga’ timpani and bass drum are spatially separated – and what impact! The final statement of the Great Gate is punctuated by ceremonial strikes from the bell and tam-tam.
As to the Prokofiev, Jordan tickles detail from every page, but without any hint of fetishistic overkill (detail for detail’s sake). The first movement is informed by an exceptionally wide range of dynamics, the second by a fastidious blend of top and subsidiary lines, whereas the third pokes fun at the ‘Classical’ connection with a light touch and the brilliantly played molto vivace finale really sparkles. It’s a superb disc – though you’ll need to contain your disappointment at a total timing that adds up to a mere 48 minutes. Still, it’s the music that’s the thing, and in that respect nothing disappoints.