It has become a widespread habit among performers, when they release a recording, to write a few words about what they think they have done in it. I will only half depart from this custom � by divulging what I have not done.
I set out to record Mussorgsky�s Pictures at an Exhibition after devising a utopian programme which I was alas (or luckily) obliged to renounce. I wanted to have a different acoustic in each picture; in each Promenade a gradual transition between the acoustic of the preceding picture and that of the following one. I would also have liked to play Con mortuis . . . and The Old Castle on an out-of-tune instrument, as if it had suffered the ravages of time and there were a secret link between these two distant moments. Is this utopia destined to be realised in some improbable future? Or will it remain more useful in the state of a project and a fantasy? That is what I believed at the time I recorded the work.
Contrary to Beethoven�s habits, Stravinsky composed only at the keyboard: naturally prone to hear and conceive his music on the piano before all else, he imagined it thus even when his aim was orchestral music. Just as, conversely, Beethoven�s piano works often suggest an orchestra, and the organ may be detected behind Bruckner�s scoring for orchestra. If Stravinsky�s version of the Rite for four hands is, it is said, merely transcription, one may surmise that in the composer�s mind, on the contrary, it was the version for piano that had in a sense engendered the other.
I do not claim never to have heard The Rite of Spring played by an orchestra. On the contrary, it is connected with one of my dearest memories of my childhood in Moscow. But, although I have frequently looked at the score, I was careful not to take the orchestral version as a model. What is the use of deliberately indulging in a pointless exercise and an absurd misunderstanding? Anyone who wants to hear The Rite of Spring on the orchestra will either listen to or conduct an orchestra! In my view, the version for two pianos partakes of an imaginary orchestration where the instants succeed one another according to laws that are not always those of industrialised civilisation � a civilisation often scarcely in a position to relate the experience of its ancestors. To deprive oneself of the refinements of Stravinsky the orchestrator might well represent as much an advantage as a loss. Less �civilised� than an orchestra, the piano seems to me sometimes more apt to suggest the attractions of a barbaric past, the sound �of stones and bones�, the nostalgia of our beginnings, the mystery of time.
�Barbarism with all modern comforts�, was Debussy�s ironic comment on this masterpiece. Without necessarily taking him literally, there is certainly less comfort to be had in listening to this music when it is performed on two pianos.
Let me add a word concerning another concealed link, the bond that unites these two masterworks. If I wished to place them side by side, it was not at all to conform to an over-simplistic national criterion. It was because, in The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky owes more to Pictures at an Exhibition, for certain features of his style, than in any of his other works. And, finally, I would like to mention another presence that subsists in a virtual state: it seems to me that sometimes, between The Old Castle, Gnomus, Catacombs, Spring Rounds and The Sacrifice, there hovers the shadow of Le Gibet and of Gaspard de la nuit.
Andrei Vieru (translated by Charles Johnston)
Andrei Vieru grasps peculiar inflections, rhythms and cadences of Russian language and culture in this lively and intelligent account. His tempos are brusque, and balances and dynamics are meticulously calculated. Putting this monolithic behemoth under the microscope, Vieru drives things forward by paying careful attention to the smallest motive units.
Vieru eschews the customary heroics associated with the louder sections of the work, favoring instead a streamlined sinuousness that reduces its scale, as if he were observing it all from a great height.
Vieru�s touch is light and laser-like.
This is an idealized Pictures, pristinely played with authority and good taste. Still, it�s a fine reading that rejects the pompous heavy-handedness that less gifted pianists bring to it. The ensemble playing here Le Sacre du Printemps is astounding as Vieru and Dan Grigore sail through this transcription. It�s an extremely impressive performance.
American Record Guide
Le Sacre�: played with such gusto and recorded with such presence and fullness. Andrei Vieru is an excellent performer of the Mussorgsky work, bringing out its varieties of color, making sure it coheres.
Classic CD Magazine
Pictures at an Exhibition: The overall impact is vital and sensitive. In the �Old castle� there is an impressive sense of wonder, of �battles lost and won� and he is truly sepulchral and mysterious in Catacombe.
Stravinsky�s Rite of Spring is heard in the composer�s two-piano version and here Vieru is joined by his teacher and compatriot Dan Grigore. Their performance, from that first primal call to attention to the ensuing hyperactivity is magnificently authoritative. Both pianists play across the vast spectrum of Stravinsky�s technique and imagination with a suitable sense of aplomb and scrupulous attention to detail.
The Rite of Spring piano duet version has something essential to offer. Stravinsky himself made it for rehearsal purposes, and it snaps the music�s explosive energy and originality into startlingly sharp focus, as Andrei vieru and Dan Grigore demonstrate in their impressive performance. While the music�s percussive rhythms have great force on two pianos some of the less foot-stamping passages � such as the introduction to Part I, or the �Ritual action of ancestors� � sound just as intriguing. For good measure there�s a colourful, strongly articulated altogether excellent performance by Vieru alone of an earlier Russian masterwork in its original piano version: Mussorgsky�s Pictures at an Exhibition.
The Rumanian pianist Andrei Vieru made a stunning appearance in the CD market about one year ago with a magnificent recording of Mussorgsky's Pictures coupled with the Stravinsky's Rite of Spring two pianos version. Having listened to them, my attention was immediately drawn by many features which are similar to those of his compatriot Radu Lupu: a sound of big density, a very orchestral conception of the instrument, a big interpretative subjectivity�