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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Pictures At An Exhibition CD (album) cover


Emerson Lake & Palmer


Symphonic Prog

3.86 | 896 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars Pretentious and Over the Top.... Great!

This album was supposed to be the ultimate and last performance of ELP's rendition of Ravel's orchestral adaptation of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (originally for piano), piece performed by the band since their first gigs in 1970 but unreleased until 1972. Although this is the first official release this isn't the earliest version available since the band released their second performance ever (at the Isle of Wight festival) in 1998, nor the last one (despite the original plans of the band). Among my favorite recordings of this spectacular piece of music are the ones included on:

*In The Hot Seat (only studio version, which also appears on the Return of the Manticore Boxset) - 1994,

*Live at Nassau Coliseum 1978 - 2011

*Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 - 1998

and this one (of course), being the most complete.

A fun fact about this work is that it was intended to come as a bonus with Tarkus but at the end was released as a budget album. One thing that amuses me about this record is how despite of its un-commercial nature it peaked number 10 in the US Billboard and 3 in the UK album chart.

Now to the music: very cohesive composition/adaptation with some fidelity to the original ambiance intended by Mossorgsky. It's grandeur and pretentiousness are some of the things that make this album interesting, enjoyable and never boring. The true genius of the band resides on the way of how their own compositions are introduced into the adaptations in such a way that nor the modified melodies or ELP's pieces disturb the natural flow of the composition and everything seems on place. This album, such as the original piece and Ravel's orchestration, takes you through a breath-taking journey during which you can appreciate Mossorgsky's perspective of Hartmann's paintings (which inspired the composition) and ELP's music-made drawings through the amazing lens and vehicle that progressive rock is.

The album starts with Emerson playing the original Promenade on a Pipe Organ in a very grand fashion, as a prelude of (according to the order of the original piece) a bombastic version of The Gnome, prolific on drum and keyboard soloing with outstanding bass work in the best ELP tradition. The second part of The Promenade (still in the order of the original) opens a vocal/ballad section led by Greg Lake with surrealistic lyrics, which represent some of the finest in his career, and a great acoustic guitar work (Lake is a very underrated guitar player); The Sage interrupts the original order of the piece and ends the acoustic section in the same subtle and masterful way as the previous track, in contrast to the previous and following "excesses" typical of the band (which I absolutely love!).

The Old Castle (sort of) taken from the original is used as a brief prelude to the Blues Variations which, as the name hints, is a hard blues bombastic improvisation which you might say is over the top and out of place here (but I tend to disagree with the last affirmation since, in my opinion, it's well connected with the rest and feels in place...but at the end is a matter of taste), nonetheless the great instrumental work and talent displayed deserves a honorable mention.

The third Promenade is completely instrumental with a great display of Palmer's orchestral/rock drumming abilities and starts the, as I like to call it, Baba Yaga Suite taken from the 10th and last movement of Mussorgsky's composition (comprised of The Hut of Baba Yaga, The Course of Baba Yaga, The Hut of Baba Yaga 2 and The Great Gates of Kiev) which was highly modified and is filled with electric noise for the sake of noise and Lake yelling some more surrealistic lyrics while being, at the same time, well written and masterfully performed.... you can practically hear one of the first hints of metal in history!!!... This "suite" closes with The Great Gates of Kiev with a bit quieter instrumentation (but still pretty heavy) and Lake singing (beautifully as always). The highlights of this section are the bombastic keyboards, the quasi-orchestral percussions and the bass (one of the finest ELP bass demonstrations).

The End closes Pictures at an Exhibition with Lake's vocals and an instrumental continuation of the previous track. What a great way of ending such a journey (they should add something like this at the end of the original.... just an idea....)

The concert ends with a fun rendition of Nutrocker (Fowley's rock version of Tchaikovsky's famous ballet The Nutcracker) which sort of lightens the overall atmosphere of the album without leaving the classical spirit, featuring an amazing drum solo...

This is an essential album if you want to understand progressive rock and its development... The highlights? Carl Palmer orchestral drumming at its best, Greg Lake's voice, outstanding bass, surreal lyrics and guitar and Keith Emerson's leading synths (although sometimes the Moog played some wrong notes apparently due to power- supply issues).... the overall recording has a good sound quality but could be better...

Yes, It's pretentious, pompous, bombastic and over the top.... but that is one of the reasons of why it keeps you on the edge of your chair throughout 37 minutes and 21 seconds. I love it!!! 5 stars for the album that definitively made me a prog fan and introduced me into classical music (if you are interested, I prefer the original for piano than Ravel's orchestration)...

ProgressiveAttic | 5/5 |


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