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Ravel: Boléro / Debussy: La Mer / Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

4.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (February 13, 1996)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • ASIN: B000001GQH
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,127 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By P. Christie on February 5, 2001
Format: Audio CD
This has long been one of my favourite performances of "Pictures". The sound quality from the early 60s recording is very good indeed. I find the pacing to be just right for this extraordinary work. I have listened to a number of versions over the years, including more recent recordings - including the Sinopoli version on DG, and a London Symphony version, as well as a few others that I have forgotten - none of them made my spine tingle like this one has. (The Ashkenazy version is a worthy complement to this version). The Bolero on this disc is also excellent. This is an excellent value CD.
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Format: Audio CD
I bought this CD thinking, "Hey, it's the Berlin Phil, it's got to be amazing." Well, it wasn't. If you're looking for "La Mer" or "Bolero", BUY this CD. They are magnificent and hypnotic, demonstrating what the orchestra and its conductor are really capable of. That is why this CD gets 4 stars.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for "Pictures", look elsewhere. The Chicago Symphony under Reiner is the best recording I have found. Next to that, this version just doesn't compare. First of all, the opening Promenade has an uneven sound quality. It almost sounds like the trumpets are switching off on the solo. Not only that, but the trumpet seems to have an unusual buzz in his sound. It's really not pleasant to listen to. This is compounded by Karajan's slow tempos - the opening "Promenade" isn't too bad, but the others just drag. "Gnomus" is played brilliantly in places, but it lacks the twisting, wicked sound of the violins found in the CSO under Reiner. "The Old Castle", however, is one of the CD's strongest tracks. In "Samuel Goldenberg", I was once again displeased with the trumpet. He needs to get control of his tonguing and let some sound out. I know the solo is high and difficult and staccato - I play trumpet myself - but it just sounds ugly. The notes are spit out with little attention to quality and a few bobbles. "Limoges", "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks", and "Tuileries" all lacked the playfulness found with the CSO, while "Baba Yaga" just was not vicious enough for my tastes. "The Great Gate" some of you may really enjoy. It is more calm and less brassy than the CSO version. However, the trumpet is yet again a problem.
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Format: Audio CD
The three performances in this CD will help immortalize perhaps the greatest director of the twentieth century: Herbert von Karajan. Karajan's control of Debussy's La Mer (The Sea) leaves you breathless, as it transports you directly to the big blue. Mussorgky's Pictures at an Exhibition, is another excellent example of not only Karajan's genius, but also of the richness of sound and musical textures that the Berliner Philarmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic) is capable. But what really makes this CD worth, is Karajan's direction of Ravel's Bolero, a magnificent, hypnotic composition lasting more than 16 minutes of pulsating musical beauty. If you want to know why von Karajan is considered one of the best orchestral directors, this CD will answer all those questions and eliminate all doubts.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Here's an album that is a great choice for listeners who are building a great classical music collection. The works included, Mussorgsky, Ravel, and Debussy (added to the original LP) are all time-honored staples of the art. Herbert van Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic do not disappoint providing lush, lively performances of all three composers' material.

One benefit of this recording that some listeners might find useful, all the individual suites of PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION are divided up as individual CD tracks. Some recordings, such as Lorin Maazel's fine production on Telarc digital, present the entire suite with no individual tracks. With a work like this, some times it's enjoyable to just play a track or two. Karajan's rendition provides the all the drama and suspense when needed, the grandiose spendlor of other segments, and the humor and playfulness for other segments. It's a well-balanced most effective presentation of the popular orchestral version of the compostion.

Karajan's treatment of Ravel's BOLERO is a nicely balanced, even-keeled performance, that builds to the full orchestral climax at the end building suspense and anticipation as the tune progresses through its paces.

Debussy's LA MER was not on the original LP release of this material. Thematically, it's just a little out of place here versus the more boldly dramatic other works on this CD, Karajan provides a nice dreamy reading of Debussy on one of the composer's most popular orchestral works.

This CD is highly recommended for listeners working on building up quality performances of the mainstream historic repetoire. I'd venture to say most experienced classical collectors already have beloved versions of these fine compositions.
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Format: Audio CD
Apart from a couple of reviews from way back around the turn of the century, whose authors hear flaws in this recording that I do not, nearly everyone concurs that ever since their recording fifty years ago, these performances have remained unequalled and unassailable. Of course there are are other excellent recordings of all three pieces (Giulini's "Pictures" with the Chicago SO and his "La mer" with the Philharmonia, for example) but as a collection this is a testament to both the sonority of the Berlin Philharmonic at its peak under Karajan and to that conductor's chameleon ability to empathise with and elucidate music from outside the late German Romantic tradition in which he excelled. His brief dalliance with the Orchestre de Paris confirms his attachment to French music and his ability to pace and colour both the Debussy and the Ravel emerges as a thing of wonder.

There is of course a neat link in the programming here between the Mussorgsky and "Boléro" as the composer of the latter orchestrated the "Pictures" brilliantly; originally these recordings, made between 1964 and 1966 in the warm ambiance of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, were issued on two separate LPs, one of French music by Debussy and Ravel and the other with just the Mussorgsky and "Boléro". Any attempt at musical criticism of such seminal recordings would be superfluous after such a long time; it is sufficient to note that the delicacy and nuance of Karajan's evocation of the sea remain extraordinary, and the peroration of the "Pictures" in "The Great Gate of Kiev" remains one of the greatest expositions of the symphony orchestra in full flight ever committed to disc.
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