Pictures At An Exhibition
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Tomita's classic reinterpretation of the Mussorgsky classic on synthesizers was an aural expanding experience when it was first issued as the follow up to the breakthru "Snowflakes Are Dancing". This edition features the original tapes remixed into surround sound!
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But of course it ain't so. Pictures at an Exhibition are first a piano cycle composed by Mussorgsky in 1874, a series of paintings in music really, so colorful and evocative that it is difficult to resist the urge of adding orchestral colors to them, as Ravel did (but he wasn't the first) in 1922, on a commission from conductor Serge Koussevitzky.
All that to say that Tomita's arrangement is as legitimate as anybody's. In fact, it is even more, because it is so good, fun and even funny, entertaining, inventive to the point of being outlandish.
One of the nice aspects of Tomita's arrangement is that, unlike many of the orchestrations that were made after 1922, it is entirely independent of Ravel's. The synthesized sounds he uses are sometimes derived from acoustic instruments (the quasi harpsichord recurs, various bell-like sounds, one sound in The Old Castle that I can only describe as "whistling" - not flute), sometimes purely electronic, but more often they mix timbres to the point of making any single instrument unrecognizable (is it a quasi balalaïka that I hear at the begining of The Old Castle?). He uses to the full the stereo separation.
Tomita also has a great sense of humor in his choice of timbres: try the quasi-flexatone at the beginning of gnomus, or the spooky quasi-ondes martenot right after, reminiscent of the cheap horror movies from the Hammer films, or the Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells - that's exactly what you hear, and it's hilarious. The use of vocal chorus, as in the first Promenade, sometimes gives the music a sci-fi aspect - not that it is out-of-sync with the whole project. There is also the use of a humming, basso solo voice - very Japanese, if I rely on my culture of Japanese films - in a number of pieces (The Old Castle, Bydlo, Catacombs) that is very intriguing.
This is an almost exclusive listener of classical music writing, not someone coming from pop music. I'm not sure listeners grown on Mussorgsky's original cycle and Ravel's orchestration won't be shocked by this - not those with open ears, but not all listeners of classical music have open ears, and some like to rest on their old listening habits and not be bullied out of them. But the value of Tomita's arrangement is precisely that it bullies the classical music listener out of his old listening habits, and return something of the original impact of Mussorgky's Pictures, which has become somewhat dulled by, precisely, those very listening habits (the same is true with, say, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and even Beethoven's 5th Symphony - hey, what a loss that Tomita didn't do an arrangement of the latter, and of the complete Rite - there is an excerpt in the album Tomita: Live At Linz 1984: The Mind of the Universe). Tomita's Pictures are a feast for the ear, sometimes a gaudy one, as was for the eye, presumably, the Viktor Hartmann exhibition that gave Mussorgsky the incentive to compose his cycle.
The only drawback then is the short, LP-derived TT of 37 minutes. Hey, with such entertaining stuff, you want more.
The realizations acheived by Tomita are quite simply stunning. The limited timbral range and fixed stereo location of the piano are replaced by powerful organ sounds and rich choral textures which seem to move, sometimes slowly and sometimes very quickly, through the three physical dimensions and the unfathonable dimensions of the human psyche.
If you can listen to this album and not be emotionally stirred, you are probably dead. Also note: I have enjoyed this album since Junior High School on vinyl, cassette tape, and CD.
Fantastic if you want to discover "avant-garde" synth music of 1970! I am so used to this version that I never customed the "original" classical Moussorgsky version!