TACET is an eclectic German recording company that features high-resolution surround sound recordings of both familiar and not so familiar classical music. In the case of the present release, Pictures & Reflections, internationally renowned Austrian pianist Markus Schirmer provides a program of two keyboard warhorses, Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs (Mirrors) and Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Schirmer’s rationale for this pairing is explained in the liner notes: “The idea of putting Ravel’s brilliant cycle side by side with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures” is one which I have felt for a long time would be a thrilling confrontation.”
Ravel’s Miroirs has five moments as listed below:
- Noctuelles (Night moths)
- Oiseaux tristes (Sad birds)
- Une Barque sur l’Ocean (A boat on the ocean)
- Alborada del grazioso (Morning song of the jester)
- La Vallee des cloches (The valley of bells)
Mussorgsky was inspired by a painting exhibition by his friend Victor Hartmann and Pictures at an Exhibition has ten movements, each a different picture, that are introduced and then separated by promenades.
- Gnomus (The Gnome)
- The Old Castle
- Tuileries (the famous French garden)
- Bydlo (Cattle)
- Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells
- Samuel Goldberg and Shmuyle
- The Marketplace at Limoges
- Catacombs/Cum mortuis in lingua morta (with the dead in a dead language)
- Baba Yaga-the hut on fowl’s legs
- The Great Gate at Kiev
These piano pieces were separated by 30 years but there are more similarities than differences when heard on the same program. Both are impressionistic tone poems that evoke palpable images as a painter would place on a canvas and pianist Schirmer gets into the skin of each work, extracting details that lie below the surface and that are often skirted by lesser artists.
Miroirs has two audio options (LPCM 2.0 and LPCM 5.1 Surround) while Pictures adds a third, the so-called “moving surround.” In this latter case, the piano moves around the listener through each piece. I found the “standard” surround mode for each work to give me the best keyboard experience, literally placing my ears within the instrument. It does not hurt Schirmer’s cause that his piano was recorded in Graz’s spacious Helmut List Hall. Listeners preferring a more standard piano presentation will enjoy the two-channel version with impeccable reproduction of this instrument’s sonorities.
A tri-language booklet provides production credits, track listings, and essays on the program, the performer, and the TACET recording process.
The Final Assessment
By way of full disclosure, I have standard go-to performances for each work albeit in much lower resolution, Sviatoslav Richter for Pictures and Pascal Roge for Miroirs. Yet, in many ways, this new release with far better piano sound and, dare I say, better controlled performances of these two blockbusters is immensely satisfying.
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