Philharmonia Orchestra/Sokiev, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

In a bid to attract younger punters to their concerts, the Philharmonia organised a speed-dating event before this one. And since the main attraction was a rare Mussorgsky opera entitled The Marriage, the marketing may have been desperate but at least the wit was still intact. In the event, the speed-dating proved only marginally speedier than the opera.

Gimmicks aside, why would anyone would go to the trouble and expense (soloists from the Kirov Opera) of mounting this unfinished 30-minute fragment? It's of interest only from a historical and musicological point of view, being a radical experiment in what Mussorgsky and his contemporaries were seeing as a new kind of music drama only one step removed from the spoken word. In short, a kind of recitative opera.

Mussorgsky's source was Gogol's comedy The Marriage and on the evidence of this meagre handful of scenes one has to ask what was wrong with performing the play with incidental music - or underscoring, if you prefer. And speaking of underscoring, Mussorgsky didn't get further than an unfinished piano score. The orchestrations we heard here were the work of one Vyacheslav Nagovitsin.

A Russian audience will have enjoyed the peculiarly robust style of comedic declamation played out by four well-practised natives, with Nagovitsin's orchestral backdrop providing little more than a series of hefty exclamation marks in moderately convincing Mussorgskian colours.

This all-Mussorgsky evening was doubly odd for not providing one piece of music that he actually orchestrated. The second half (making a total of a little over an hour's music) was given over to Ravel's enduringly brilliant orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

Tugan Sokhiev, the conductor, made a decent enough guide here, while the Philharmonia consistently showed us why Ravel's choices are the right choices. Come the moment of flinging wide "The Great Gate of Kiev", the clamour of brass, bells, and tam-tam was such that, never mind a marriage, the QEH could have hosted a coronation.

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