Today’s lucky number belongs to Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s 1972 live performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s classic piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition. I figured sharing my thoughts on this album was going to be difficult. Stuff like this is not my forte. But it turns out it only took a bit of my attention and a smidgen of interest in the subject matter to make this album a pleasure to listen to.
At first, it was hard to appreciate their “modern” take on these picturesque compositions when I have little knowledge of the original. So I went back and listened to a more traditional performance of this suite. Well, not the whole thing but bits and pieces of my favorite parts – particularly the “First Promenade”, which ELP might have an edge over the Skidmore College Orchestra’s rendition. Something about the pipe organ always gives me chills.
Little by little, I was spending more time with the ELP version. Going into this with even a little bit of knowledge of what you’re listening to suddenly makes a difference. I know why the second movement (don’t know if I’m using the terminology properly) is called “The Gnome”. Everything makes more sense. I supposed audiences from the early 70’s knew a heck of a lot more about music history than listeners of today. They must have. They erupted in applause when the band announced they were doing Mussorgsky for the next 40 minutes (well, either that, or clever editing).
In all fairness, there were times it overwhelmed me a bit with electric gobbledygook. It doesn’t detract too much from the album as a whole, though it does turn the “walk through a gallery” motif and turns it abruptly to “intergalactic dog fight” for those brief moments. I suppose that’s Progressive Rock for you….
As a nice little post script to the Mussorgsky performance, the trio closes out the album with an unrelated rock rendition of “The Nutcracker Suite” (they call it “Nutrocker”). Call me crazy but I loved it. It just exploded out my speakers without offering an apology. It was a tasty dessert after a fancy meal.
This is one of those albums I’ll be keeping on the standby when I need some relaxing background music that won’t put me to sleep. Yeah, it’s not for everyone. For one, you need to have a strong stomach for a heaping spoonful of Moog. But I don’t mind it. I have a strong constitution.
If you have any knowledge or further insight on this album, feel free to sound off in the comments section.