Pictures at an Exhibition

For someone who studied music in college, I somehow managed to miss Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition until now. I admit I’m not a fan of large-scale orchestral works, so I avoided it not knowing that it was originally written for solo piano. I picked up both CD and vinyl copies of the solo piano version and I think it is fabulous. A wonderful mix of simplicity and virtuosity and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m definitely tempted to pick up another version.

Plese let me know if you are aware of any outstanding performances of this piece. Thanks 


I think audiophiles want to think the conductor has some magic, but it’s the players doing 97% of it. The conductor can make small changes with tempi and dynamics, but that’s it. Conductors are, however, very good at marketing. Also, modern orchestras play much much better. 

It was my impression the OP was asking for piano performances, not the version orchestrated by Ravel.

An audiophile friend (Focal speakers, Linn table, etc.) considers the Ivo Pogorelich recording (DGG "4D" from 1997) to be his reference standard for piano recordings. And it is very fine: very natural, with the microphones at a normal listener’s distance from the instrument. Pogorelich is (or was) an interesting figure, by the way. I’ve got lots of stories about him; my wife was a musicologist and concert organizer in the former Yugoslavia. Amazing technique!

One of my favorite works.  This is my favorite piano version (Byron Janis)!  As a bonus, it also include the orchestral version with Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony.

I was introduced to this piece through the ELP version.  I picked up the original Telarc version (vinyl) and as usually happens, the first becomes your reference.  Anyway, I must have a dozen versions, but the Telarc remains my favorite.

**** You know it’s all about the conductor getting the orchestra inline.****

Not quite. I would put what @mayoradamwest wrote somewhat differently. Yes, the conductor’s vision for the work is the primary guiding force, but still far from “it(s) all”. The smart conductor gives much consideration to the strengths and weaknesses (minor, relatively speaking, in major orchestras) of a particular orchestra, its musical traditions and its principal players. When that happens is when the truly great performances happen. This work happens to be one for which the conductor’s choice of tempo for each “picture” can make or break the performance. The players do the heavy lifting, but ultimately they have to play to the conductor’s tempo, as just one example.

My favorite recordings of the Ravel orchestration of this work are the Chicago/Kubelik 1951 recording. I prefer it to the vaunted Reiner. Outstanding performance and excellent mono sound.

Another, and probably my favorite overall, is the Muti/Philadelphia which also features very nice saxophone playing in “The Old Castle”. Sadly, the saxophone playing in this beautiful “picture” is usually lacking in otherwise good overall performances. It is also a great example of how the choice of tempo can make or break a work.  Some conductors like to conduct this movement at lethargic tempos. Muti takes it at a tempo that moves forward, yet still evocative. Very beautiful.