The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

CD Review: Friedrich Lips
Russian Bells

Friedrich Lips: bayan


  • Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Cholminov: Concert Symphony for Bayan

    Total Time: 49:07
    Released: 2002
    Review Date: August 2003

    label:LIPS CD
    Order from: The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Online Gift Store

    Review by Steve Mobia

    No, this is an accordion album, there are no "russian bells" heard in the recording.

    The warhorse Pictures at an Exhibition was originally written for piano by Modest Mussorgsky in a reaction to a series of watercolors and drawings by the artist Victor Hartman. Finished in 1874, the collection of short pieces went largely unnoticed until after Mossorgsky's death when it was first published. The orchestral arrangement by Ravel brought great attention to the work which hasn't subsided since. It's often said that the pieces are far more expressive in an orchestral setting and the original piano score isn't nearly as often performed and recorded.

    Lips' performance of "Pictures" on bayan with its organ-like timbres seems to work better than on the piano to my ears. Pieces like The Gnome, The Old Castle, Samuel Golderberg & Schmuyle and the Catacombs benefit from the bayan's ability to sustain notes and Lips does a very competent job in interpreting these well-worn gems.

    The one problem with the final Great Gate of Kiev on both piano and accordion is that after the transition from the wild Huton Fowl's Legs the "promenade" theme enters at full volume. It's hard to top that force and the piece demands that the theme be played even grander and more grander with each appearance. It's here that a full symphony orchestra is sorely missed.

    Comparison might be made to the wonderful recording of Pictures at an Exhibition played on dual accordions by JamesCrabb and Geir Draugsvoll on EMI. There is somewhat more subtlety in that rendition due to breaking up the score with two players, though in general the Lips version equals it.

    The album concludes with a meandering fantasy Concert Symphony for Bayan (another odd title) by Alexander Cholminov. Though there are plenty of bravura passages, the piece as whole doesn't have cumulative power and often seems stuck in socialist-style folk/classical limbo rather than truly modern writing for the instrument.

    As usual for Lips, the recording uses plenty of dark reverb, giving the bayan a pipe organ in a cathedral quality. Liner notes are slim.

    About The Free-Reed Review
    Invitation to Contributors / Submission Guidelines

    Back to The Free-Reed Review Contents Page

    Back to The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Home Page