This is another well merited rescue by Arkiv who struck
a deal with the majors to sell swathes of their deleted items
under a custom production arrangement. Initially sold without
liner-notes the product now offered by online retailer Arkiv is
of high quality and is now pretty much identical to the original
except for the Arkiv logo.
The princes among EMI's
Composers in Person series issued 1994-1997 included
the Medtner collection and two others which I missed first time
round: this one and the Schmitt/Roussel collection. The wide-ranging
series drew exclusively on EMI's recordings between 1904 and
1958 and was masterminded by Ken Jagger. It was iconic and it
was lamentable that it should have been deleted so quickly.
These mono recordings
made in London half a century ago sound very well indeed. Grainy
but vibrant they have a gritty thrusting immediacy which fits
well with Khachaturian's music.
Masquerade was Lermontov's version of ‘Othello’ which was staged
with this music in Moscow just the day before Hitler's invasion
of the Soviet Union. The Waltz is overpoweringly grand with
a good melody and a streaming tail motif. There is a hoarse-toned
shadowy violin solo in the soulful Nocturne before a
return to sumptuously frivolous Mazurka which always
sounds to me like the soundtrack to a supercharged Hollywood
Easter Parade with flouncy white dresses and twirling parasols.
The idiom might well fit with the sumptuous musicals encouraged
by Stalin for the Soviet Union’s theatres – a genre that deserves
reappraisal. Light music with a heavy hand but instantly captivating.
Sounding a mite less
grainy and certainly 'cleaner', the Violin Concerto here is
played by its dedicatee who also contributes his own cadenza
at the end of the long first movement. It's a well known piece
but the spiralling alternately kinetic then swooning romantic
Allegro is followed by an andante which sinuously explores oriental
sultriness. The finale blasts its way back into driven and supercharged
kinetic energy and jerkily sparked romance. Oistrakh is gorgeous
in this but do try Kogan and Tretiakov if you can find them.
Perhaps not a first choice given vintage sound but a rewarding
second version. For a first choice try a later version from
Oistrakh on BMG Melodiya if you can track it down. If you do
not know this work but perhaps know the Barber, Korngold or
Walton the chances are you will love it. Get it.
After the concerto
comes a goodly portion of the Gayaneh ballet score. This
taps into the folk music of Armenia, Georgia and the Ukraine.
It's light but by no means insubstantial and inhabits another
world from the OTT Masquerade music. Here are eight movements
from the four act ballet written between 1939 and 1942. The
Dance of the Rose-Maidens is graceful and optimistic. Ayesha's
Awakening sounds more tensely mysterious than ever before
with almost fearful birdsong and moves almost imperceptibly
into Ayesha's swooning dance complete with saxophone solo/.
I wonder, did Khachaturian know Rachmaninov's contemporaneous
Symphonic Dances? The reedy lulling of the oboe in Lullaby
sounds warmly Baxian at one moment then fades into one of
the most gracious themes in all music - caressingly done here
with avian woodwind chirrups accentuating the kindly melody.
Gayaneh's Adagio is more austere and with even a hint
of the second Viennese school. The Lezghinka whirls us
back to Borodin's Polovtsi camp. The Lyrical Duet and
Dance of the Old Men and Women may be flatter but they
prepare the scene for Khachaturian's most famous piece - the
Sabre Dance which erupts, blares, oompahs and strafes
its spangled way through 2:10.
Unmissable for Khachaturian
enthusiasts and by all means have this as the sole representation
of the composer if you can live with brilliant vivacious sound
minus the last degree of refinement.