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

PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

3.86 | 925 ratings

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Frankingsteins
3 stars Combining classical and electronic instruments was still something of an innovation in 1971. Pink Floyd's 20-minute symphonic extravaganza 'Atom Heart Mother' had built on the Moody Blues' efforts in the late sixties, then Emerson, Lake and Palmer, at the time a fresh and original presence in the musical world, took this idea a little further.

Their live performance of 'Pictures at an Exhibition' takes Mussorgsky's famous composition - specifically the popular orchestral arrangement by Ravel (Mussorgsky's original was written for piano) - and adds the keyboard talents of Keith Emerson, the vocals and guitars of Greg Lake and percussion by Carl Palmer.

Released in 1972 at a budget price, this was an affordable way for a curious public to introduce themselves to ELP and react with a disgusted frown or a thoughtful 'hmm, I like what you did there. I think.'

'Pictures.' is Mussorgsky's most famous and recognised composition, with the possible exception of the hellish 'Night on a Bare Mountain.' The opening horns of 'Promenade' will unfortunately be remembered by some as the opening theme to Rik Mayall's unimpressive sitcom 'The New Statesman,' while 'The Hut of Baba Yaga' and 'The Great Gates of Kiev' were spectacularly synthesised in the bestselling early 90s computer game 'Frontier.' Mussorgsky's music attempts to express his feelings about a number of paintings in a gallery, the tone and content of which can hopefully be understood through these pieces. The recurring 'Promenade' is the theme of the visitor, moving between the pictures at the exhibition.

Obviously fans of Mussorgsky's seminal work, ELP present the Promenade in its untampered orchestrated version, while the orchestrated 'Hut of Baba Yaga' is played faithfully, but overlaid with increasingly hasty electronic playing from the trio. Vocals are an interesting if distracting addition, most notable in the uplifting 'Great Gates of Kiev' that concludes ELP's 'Pictures' set.

Not all of Mussorgsky's 'Pictures' are represented here, attention being directed towards the aforementioned Baba Yaga and Great Gates as well as 'The Gnome,' 'The Sage' and 'The Old Castle' in the first half. Gnome and Castle are taken over by Emerson's impressive keyboards, while The Sage becomes an unexpected acoustic piece from Lake.

The set closes, after a huge appreciative uproar from the crowd, with the band's rendition of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker (renamed 'Nutrocker'), itself apparently based on a piano reworking by B Bumble and the Stingers ten years earlier. Although it lacks the atmosphere maintained through the rest of the set, this is a fun (if irritating at times) display of Keith Emerson at his best.

Released after the well-received 'Tarkus,' ELP's Pictures at an Exhibition is a lot of fun, especially for fans of classical music and progressive rock. Some will see it as superior to Mussorgsky, others will track me down and slaughter me for even suggesting that such blasphemers could exist. Now commonly available only as a full-priced CD, rather than the cheap novelty it once was, Pictures could be seen as more arrogant and pretentious than its original intention - a memorable addition to ELP's first tour.

The sound quality is far from excellent, owing to the fact that this is a live album from the early seventies. Although the instrumentation is near perfect, Greg Lake's voice isn't up to the standards of studio recordings. The band later recorded a portion of this set in Dolby surround sound on their otherwise disappointing 'In the Hot Seat' album, but taking this as a live addition to a prog rock collection, it's not all bad. Who knows: Modest Mussorgsky might even be proud.

Nah. But I like it.

Frankingsteins | 3/5 |

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