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News and information about WSCL's Classical Music Programming

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

DVD Review: Pictures Reframed

Leif Ove Andsnes' latest project, "Pictures Reframed," is a multi-media collaboration between the Norwegian pianist and South African-born visual artist Robin Rhode, interpreting Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" in sound and vision. Last Friday on "Just Opened" we heard the CD release; today, we'll look at the Deluxe edition CD/DVD release.

The two artists come from completely different worlds. Andsnes is an internationally-known concert pianist...his performances and CDs have made him one of the best-known musicians on the planet. Rhode is a self-confessed "hip-hop head," yet has been using music from Mussorgsky's "Pictures" for some of his own original films. What brings them together is a shared fascination with the work: for Andsnes, finding a new way to interpret this demanding, yet well-known piece; for Rhode, finding the expressive possibilities in Mussorgsky's music that both honors the classical tradition without directly competing with it.

So, what does it look like? Rhode's images, at first glance, might clash with whatever images you may have in your own mind associated with Mussorgsky's Pictures over the years. But as you watch Rhode's simple, black and white images unfold, you realize that the artist has taken a very playful approach that is not at all at odds with the music. For example, the promenade features a walker leaving chalk-mark traces on a wall - as he walks on his side. "The Old Castle" is a pentagonal arrangement of trees on a white background; "Bydlo," or Ox-cart, is a series of images of an abandoned train station; for "Limoges," the changing image of a chalk piano (artwork which graces the cover of the CD.) Perhaps the most arresting visual image is the one that accompanies "The Great Gate of Kiev" - "Drowning piano." In it a grand piano is taken to a dry dock, and the flood gates are opened, slowly submerging the piano in the rushing waters. (If you're thinking, "what a waste of a good piano," you should know that the keyboard in question is the same instrument Andsnes used a couple of years ago in a photo shoot at the top of a cliff. Andsnes later remarked that the old piano had so much trouble staying in tune that he wanted to kick it over the cliff!) In essence, Rhodes pictures and Andsnes' performance invite you to participate, to bring your own impressions to bear on this well-known piece of music. You can see some of these images in this short video preview:

What you are seeing, quite simply, are pictures at an exhibition. Perhaps not the ones by Viktor Hartmann that originally inspired the composer, but rather new ones that honor the spirit of the composition itself: a musical and visual impression of the work of another artist. In this case, the artist is Mussorgsky.

The Deluxe Edition comes in an exhibition-style hardback book with photos, plus the audio CD and the DVD, which contains the complete performance, artist interviews and a "making-of" featurette.

Bill (with thanks to EMI Classics for both pictures and music.)

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