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Small's view of Pictures at an Exhibition is superbly measured, scrupulously executed, and notable for its precision and deliberation. He opens with a sensible promenade and proceeds with intelligence and a striking clarity of expression.

Fine though this is, 'Gnomus' becomes a picture of curiosity but has little, if any menace. 'The Old Castle' is suitably resonant with the echoes of ancient days yet les enfants at play in Paris' 'Tuileries' are very prim and his imposing 'Bydlo' (Polish ox cart) trundles a little too smoothly, as if on giant Michelin tyres.

The contrast between Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle is somewhat underplayed and a 'painterly' view of 'Catacombs' produced few shivers down the spine. To his credit however, in Mussorgsky's final pictures -- 'Baba Yaga's Hut' and 'The Great Gate at Kiev' [listen -- track 38, 4:42-6:17] -- Small pulls all the stops out -- the result is impressively grandiose.

In many ways this civilised approach can scarcely be faulted. The problem for me; I'd just heard three more winning alternatives : Julius Katchen (marvellous incandescent pianism, though shallow recording, for Decca), Evgeny Kissin (another front runner; RCA), and Noriko Ogawa (highly commendable on BIS).

At the same time I recall Richter's unrivalled, coruscating, live, stand-out Sofia performance of 1958 (Philips), gripping and truly formidable despite the backdrop of coughing, throat-clearing and wheezing as a flu epidemic raged throughout Bulgaria.

Small's Pictures reveal indisputably fine pianism but they are bound to become an adjunct to the likes of Kissin or Richter.

Copyright © 13 August 2006 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


Renoir's Feast - Music for a Masterpiece

MM141 Stereo NEW RELEASE 67'50" 2006 Museum Music Inc

Haskell Small, piano

Haskell Small (born 1948): Renoir's Feast (2005) - A Musical Celebration of the 'Luncheon of the Boating Party', commissioned by The Phillips Collection and dedicated to pianist Soheil Nasseri; Modeste Mussorgsky (1839-1881): Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)





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