Mussorgsky and Co too much of a handful

Philip Edward Fisher delivers an uneven compilation of works by the five Russian composers known as 'The Mighty Handful'.

Title: The Mighty Handful
Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov
Repertoire:  Piano works
Artists: Philip Edward Fisher
Rating:  3/5
Genre: Instrumental
Label: Chandos CHAN 10676

The Music: Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky- Korsakov – five very different, roughly contemporary, Russian composers dubbed ‘The Mighty Handful’ (not entirely usefully) by the critic Vladimir Stasov. Their common creed was a conscious musical nationalism.

The Performance: The programme is book-ended by the two most famous works of ‘The Five’: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Balakirev’s oriental fantasy Islamey. Pictures is given a fine, muscular performance without being outstanding; Islamey boasts transparently clear textures at the expense of spine-tingling bravura. Cui, the deserved nonentity of ‘The ‘Five’, is represented by his dreary Nocturne from Quatre Morceaux, Rimsky-Korsakov by three short, derivative pieces (though the Scherzino is a delight); Borodin’s famous Scherzo for some reason is placed before the seven numbers of his Petite Suite (it was published as No.8).

The Verdict: An interesting concept to have keyboard works from each of ‘The Five’ ranged alongside one another on the same disc, but the musical interest is uneven – and Fisher’s recorded piano tone is not always the most attractive.

Want More? Freddy Kempf offers compelling readings of Pictures and Islamey (on BIS, BIS-SACD-1580) with Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit as a third masterpiece.