Modest Mussorgsky Unorthodox Music review – Treasure trove of vivid storytelling

Fri, Dec 3, 2021, 00:00

Modest Mussorgsky Unorthodox Music    by Claire Booth and  Christopher Glynn  

Modest Mussorgsky Unorthodox Music

Claire Booth, Christopher Glynn



“Unorthodox” is a description you could apply to much of the music by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839-81). He was born into wealth (fellow composer Borodin once called him “an elegant piano-playing dilletante”) and gave up an army commission to focus on music, but was forced by family misfortune to earn a living as a civil servant. Before he drank himself to death at the age of 42, his music marked out territory that would provide important stimulation for adventurous spirits such as Debussy. 

Soprano Claire Booth and pianist Christopher Glynn decided that since “Every Mussorgsky song is a slice of life” they would shape their programme into “the arc of an imagined life”, presented by a woman in a world where Mussorgsky’s songs are sill most often performed by men. The result is a treasure trove of vivid storytelling through music, the songs interspersed with idiosyncratic piano pieces and the celebrated song-cycles sliced through for samples rather than presented completely. 

All that’s missing is the full panoply of rich inflection that a native Russian speaker would have. For that you’ll have to head off to the likes of the great Galina Vishnevskaya and her piano-playing cellist husband, Mstislav Rostropovich.