Sir Antonio Pappano’s New Album – Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade; Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain – Out Now on Warner Classics

22 Mar 2024

Sir Antonio Pappano conducts Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia for his new release, Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade; Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain (Original Versions of 1867 & 1880). The recording is available now on CD, for stream and download and as Dolby Atmos on Warner Classics now.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, telling sumptuous stories, and Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, graphically chilling, are two of the most popular works in the Russian repertoire. Programming them together, as Music Director of the Orchestra and Chorus dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Sir Antonio Pappano reminds us of the links between the two composers. At the same time he provides a rare opportunity to hear both of Mussorgsky’s versions of Night on Bald Mountain – one for orchestra and one for orchestra and vocal forces.

Mussorgsky (1839-1881) and Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) were both members of the group of Russian composers known as The Five or The Mighty Handful (the others were Borodin, Balakirev and Cui). Rimsky-Korsakov, a highly sophisticated musician, recognised the startling talent and originality of his gruff, maverick colleague, whose works seemed challenging to the musical establishment. After Mussorgsky’s premature death, Rimsky-Korsakov hoped to ensure a future for two of his most striking scores – the opera Boris Godunov and the tone poem Night on Bald Mountain – by reworking them, making them more conventionally attractive and more readily amenable. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote: “My conscience will be at rest, for I have done for his music and memory all that I was capable of doing, and in duty bound to do.”

Rimsky-Korsakov’s version of Night on Bald Mountain remains popular, but it does not feature on this album. Instead, the programme offers two different iterations of the work by Mussorgsky himself. The first, a purely orchestral version, was written in the 1860s. It took inspiration from a lost play, The Witch by Georgi Mengden, and portrayed a witches’ sabbath. Some years later, around 1880, Mussorgsky revised it, creating a work for orchestra, adult chorus, children’s chorus and a solo singer (on this recording the Bulgarian bass Dejan Vatchkov). It formed an episode in his opera The Fair at Sorochyntsi, based on a play by Nikolai Gogol: Satan appears with his devilish hordes in the nocturnal hours of St John’s Day, around the time of the summer solstice. Mussorgsky never completed The Fair at Sorochyntsi and this second version of Night on Bald Mountain was orchestrated by Vissarion Shebalin, who made an edition of the opera in 1930.

As Antonio Pappano says, “It comes as a shock, after we have been accustomed to Rimsky-Korsakov’s upholstered edition of Night on Bald Mountain, to hear this almost skeletally orchestrated music …. The sounds don’t blend, and the rhythms just leap off the page in a different way. The supposed lack of sophistication in Mussorgsky’s writing creates a bite that is very unusual for the time when this music was composed …. The way he treats rhythmic gestures is almost a foreshadowing of Stravinsky … Mussorgsky’s harmonies are strikingly unconventional for the time. Especially when he writes block chords, they are closely related to the music of the Russian Orthodox Church … It is bare and unadorned, with a stark rawness … It’s as though the unvarnished bluntness in his music reflects his own rough-and-ready, difficult character in life.”

By contrast, Rimsky-Korsakov’s iridescent symphonic suite Scheherazade, spinning four tales from One Thousand and One Nights, is, in Antonio Pappano’s words, “a superb showpiece for the orchestra”. He adds that  “It’s technically very challenging, as it is musically for the conductor who must convey the sense of narrative in a compelling way … It’s full of pictorial imagery … There are often chamber music textures in Scheherazade … They beguile the listener’s ear – what a contrast to Mussorgsky! But of course you need a top-rate orchestra to accomplish these effects. It is especially in the score’s more transparent and singing moments that the orchestra’s quality is really key. Italian orchestral musicians are known for their singing sound and style, so I find this piece to be ideal for the Santa Cecilia Orchestra.”


Click here for more information, to listen and buy

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Scheherazade, Op. 35

  1. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship
  2. The Story of the Kalendar Prince
  3. The Young Prince and Princess
  4. Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. Shipwreck. Conclusion

Modest Mussorgsky

  1. Night on Bald Mountain (1867, original orchestral version)
  2. Night on Bald Mountain (1880, version for chorus, children’s chorus, bass and orchestra)


Dejan Vatchkov, bass, track 6

Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, track 6

Coro di Voci Bianche dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, track 6

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Antonio Pappano, conductor