Okay, I should have written about seven releases, not seven discs, because Maurizio Baglini's recording of all of Modest Mussorgsky's piano music is a twofer. So discs six and seven are devoted to Modest Mussorgsky. Maurizio Baglini is an Italian pianist who has pretty wide ranging repertoire, and he seems to be something of a Liszt specialist. That hints at a big, virtuosic technique. He plays a Fazioli. That hints at a big, bold sound.
Mr Baglini seems to have lived with Pictures for a long time. Each piece is played as its own distinctive work, while still managing to blend into the whole. The unique traits appear from the get-go. The opening Promenade displays a clear, bell-like sound and is most attractive, for instance. Each piece that follows sounds more colorful and more distinctive (like a nicely gnarly Gnomus) until Bydlo, which is played in stomping, grinding, crushing fashion, with blunted notes throughout. There is purposive ugliness in the music, but not the playing. The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks becomes almost a tripartite mini-suite, and is delightfully played. Limoges, le marche is as good a pianistic depiction of a bustling marketplace as seems imaginable, with both hands' parts played with perfectly controlled, cheerful chaos. The Catacombae and Cum mortius in lingua mortua blend together seamlessly into one haunting sonic painting. Baba Yaga opens with flailing, crashing playing and later on scampers along, like a Russian Scarbo. Then Baglini does something completely unexpected and opens the Great Gate of Kiev in small scale, almost soft fashion, only slowly building up the volume and weight of the playing, finally playing the closing pages in nearly bombastic fashion, taking full advantage of the Fazioli's lower registers. This is one of the most varied, individual takes of Pictures at an Exhibition I've heard. He makes even Fazil Say and Ivo Pogorelich seem like straight-shooters, yet at the same time, though the playing is obviously self-indulgent from a pianistic display standpoint, his interpretation does not seem overly indulgent. It seems inevitable. Before listening to this recording, I sampled both Nino Gvetadze's recording and Fazil Say. Hers is refined and grand, his rougher and more personalized. Both are very fine. This is much better. It can be compared to the best versions I have heard.
Following the massive suite is the Reverie, and here and in the Impromptu passionne, Baglini plays softly and gently and beautifully throughout. The playing is touching. That makes the contrast with the pointed, vigorous Intermezzo in modo classico all the more jarring, in all its rumbling, heavy-duty style. The Polka that ends the disc is brisk, lively and fun.
The second disc opens with the C Major Piano Sonata for four hands, where Baglini is joined by Roberto Prosseda, he of the super-complete and super-good Mendelssohn Lieder Ohne Worte. The piece is sonically weighty but musically slight, and enjoyable. The remaining items basically move between somewhat boisterous and light concoctions, and slow, tonally lush pieces, at least as played here. Nino Gvetadze covers a fair number of the same pieces, but in every case, she plays them quicker, in a more straight-forward manner, and though her playing is refined, Baglini's playing displays a whole lot more in way of tonal lushness and variety. Baglini is more the virtuoso here, constantly offering up displays of what he can do. It turns out he can do quite a lot. I do enjoy Ms Gvetadze's playing, but Baglini's playing is more varied and more to my taste. Those wanting more direct playing may very well prefer Gvetadze.
Baglini's playing on this twofer is good enough to make me think I should try more of his work, probably starting with his Liszt. His overt but not garish virtuosity seems like a natural fit for the Hungarian's works. Baglini is a real find.