Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Pictures At An Exhibition

Year of Release: 1996
Label: Rhino
Catalog Number: 72225
Format: CD
Total Time: 37:48:00

For long-time Emerson Lake & Palmer fans this release needs no introduction, but for those who are still discovering classic progressive rock with wide eyed wonder (or merely amused curiosity) Pictures At An Exhibition (Atlantic/Cotillion ((A2) 19122), 1972) is ELP's prog rock version of Mussorgsky's suite of the same name ? with a few added bits that Mussorgsky didn't write.

Recorded live on March 26, 1971, nearly 90 years to the day after Mussorgsky died (March 28, 1881) -- though I don't presume to be the only one who's noticed this -- it was originally released in 1972. The CD version has been issued any number of times since by various different labels, but most recently, it appears, by Castle Music/Sanctuary Records Group in UK (though this review is based on the Atlantic/Cotillion edition of some vintage*). When it was originally released on vinyl, it featured two tracks, one on each side (comprising six and seven pieces, respectfully).

Though the band's studio output seems more highly regarded than this live release, at least in some corners, I personally have no beef with this release on the whole. Any quibbles I have relate to the production (which may have improved with the subsequent reissues). While for the most part, ELP's presentation is of a stately manner, beginning with the austere opening segment "Promenade," when the band breaks from the suite with non-related pieces like "Blues Variation" it changes the piece's whole character. Perhaps it's not really a fair comparison to make, but listening to the ELP version of "The Gnome" along side Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic's performance of the same piece, we hear the titular gnome less as sad, dark figure and more as a lumbering, fearful beast. (A quibble is the very shrill note that Emerson plays right at the end that, at first, sounds like microphone feedback). Oh, okay, I'm not expecting a faithful translation, so, you veterans, don't go thinking that I don't "get it." I do. But I have to wonder if, for Emerson, if it was about saying something about music or just what he could do with the Moog synth he obviously enjoyed playing/experimenting with (certainly seems true about "The Old Castle" leading into "Blues Variation." Just a little shrill for my liking, but I can live with it, since I enjoyed listening to this CD again. Those non-Mussorgsky pieces fall at the end of each "side" ? "Blues Variation" in the case of "side one" and "Nutrocker" on "side two," (though the trio add in "The Curse Of Baba Yaga"). If their placement had been reversed, I'd certainly be a little disappointed, as the rollicking fun of "Nutrocker" would be very out of place. However, other than trying to capture the performance in it's entirety (though I don't know if that's the case, since there's a fade out before it begins), including "Nutrocker" here seems? indulgent. Though I suppose, given the serious intensity they'd just given to their take on PAAE, this playful jam was a chance to play it loose and a bit of fun. And the only reason "Blues Variation" fits is that, given the presentation we've already been given, sonically it seems of a piece, if a little bit more lively than the Mussorgsky compositions. Though, it does show them to be a fairly tight unit.

There comes a point, between the end of "The Gnome" (which features some very taut drumming from Palmer) and the beginning of the Lake altered "Promenade" reprise where everything gets too quiet ? you can just hear Lake's voice for the first part of "The Sage," (which does get more audible) that otherwise has a peaceful fragility. It is, for this section, just Lake on acoustic guitar, and playing quite lovely. Which is why I wish the levels were just tweaked a bit higher (and yes, I have the on louder than usual).

Trio really let loose (in a way different from "Nutrocker") on the "The Curse Of Baba Yaga" and "The Hut Of Baba Yaga," sounding like the ELP we're most familiar with. "The Great Gates Of Kiev" mellows the band out again, though it does show up the limitations of the sound recording at this point, especially during Lake's vocals (which sound good otherwise).

Of the band's live releases -- excepting Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 which was released in the UK last year (and includes the complete "Pictures?" suite) and Live In Poland, released last September ? this is the one that seems to get the highest marks from fans (though even those are at the average level). I do give this a slightly higher rating than, say, the three stars at Allmusic.com, but the overall sound quality shaves a few points off.

*The useful/less footnote section: I actually spent quite a bit of time trying to find out when this particular CD version was released, but there is nary a word about it on the Web, including in otherwise complete discographies. It does, however, share the catalog number with Atlantic's vinyl release in, it appears, 1977. I'm going to guess that this came out rather early in the history of compact discs, though I know I bought it after 1991. I say all this because of the question marks in the details above, and the curious thing about the album artwork. Seeking this out now, you'll find that the frames are empty, which appears to be, as near as I can tell, how it was originally released.

Also re-released by Castle (ESM342)

Promenade - The Gnome - Promenade - The Sage - The Old Castle - Blues Variation (19:01) / Promenade - The Hut Of Baba Yaga - The Curse Of Baba Yaga - The Hut Of Baba Yaga - The Great Gates Of Kiev - The End ? Nutrocker (18:46)

Keith Emerson ? keyboards, organ, Moog
Greg Lake ? bass, acoustic guitar, vocals
Carl Palmer ? drums and percussion

Emerson Lake and Palmer (1970/1983/1996)
Tarkus (1971)
Pictures At An Exhibition (1972)
Trilogy (1972/198?/1996)
Brain Salad Surgery (1973/1983/1996)
Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends (1974)
Works, Vol. 1 (1977)
Works, Vol. 2 (1977)
Love Beach (1978)
In Concert (1979)
The Best Of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1980)
Black Moon (1992)
Live At The Royal Albert Hall (1992)
The Atlantic Years (1992)
Works Live (1993)
The Return Of The Manticore (Box set) (1993)
In The Hot Seat (1994)
The Best Of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (1994)
Classic Rock (1995)
Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival (1997)
King Biscuit Flower Hour: Greatest Hits Live (1997)
Then & Now (live) (1998)
The Very Best Of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (2000)
The Original Bootleg Series From Manticore Vaults, Volume 1 (2001/2006)
The Original Bootleg Series From Manticore Vaults, Volume 2 (2001)
Live In Poland (2001)
Show That Never Ends (2001)
Live (2002)*
Best Of The Bootlegs (2002)
Solo Anthology (2002)
The Original Bootleg Series From Manticore Vaults, Volume 3 (2002)
Live In Poland (2003)
Greatest Hits Live (2003)
An Introduction To? (2004)
Three Classic Albums (2004)
Ultimate Collection (2004)
Critical Review 1970-1992 (2005)
Bootleg Box Set (2006)
Original Bootleg Series From The Manticore Vaults, Vol 4 (2006)
Lucky Man: Best Of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (2006)
The Birth Of A Band: Isle Of Wight Festival (2006)
The Essential Emerson, Lake & Palmer (2007)
From The Beginning (CD/DVD) (2007)
Works 1 & 2 (2009)
A Time And A Place (4CD Box) (2010)
Live At The High Voltage Festival (2010)

Pictures At An Exhibition (VHS/DVD) (1970/2002)
Welcome Back (VHS/DVD) (1993/2001)
Live At The Royal Albert Hall (VHS/DVD) (1996/2001)
Works Orchestral Tour: Olympic Stadium, Montreal, 1977 (DVD) (1998)
The Manticore Special (DVD) (1998) (broadcast on TV 1973/1974)
Masters From The Vault (2004)
Live At Montreux, 1997 (DVD) (2004)
Critical Review 1970-1995 (DVD) (2005)
Beyond The Beginning (DVD) (2005)
Music In Review (DVD) (2005)
Pictures At An Exhibition - 35th Anniversary Edition (DVD) (2005)
Live Broadcasts: Collector's Rarities (DVD) (2006)
Pictures At An Exhibition - Special Edition (40th Ann. Edition) (2010)

*this is of the Isle Of Wight festival, too.

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: January 12th 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.emersonlakepalmer.com
Hits: 1397
Language: english


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