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Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Suite – Masquerade: (Waltz; Nocturne; Mazurka; Romance; Galop) (1944) [18:23]
Suite – The Valencian Widow: (Introduction; Serenade; Song; Comic Dance; Intermezzo; Dance) (1957 from the music of 1940) [22:52]
Dance Suite (excerpts: Caucasian Dance; Uzbek Dance) (1933) [13:02]
Suite – The Battle of Stalingrad: (City On The Volga; Invasion; Stalingrad On Fire; Battle For The Motherland; Forward Into Victory; There is a Crag on the Volga) (1949) [15:33]
Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra/Loris Tjeknavorian
rec. Aram Khachaturian Hall, Yerevan, Armenia. 1991 (Masquerade); 1993 (Valencian Widow; Battle of Stalingrad);  (Dance Suite) 1995. DDD
ALTO ALC1019 [70:40]


Experience Classicsonline

Alto continues to range freely among the labels selecting, mixing and making new matches. It’s a recipe that works pretty well for consumers and for them.

In this case they look to the ASV catalogue which if not deleted seems to be drowsy at present. This collection is drawn from four full-price Khachaturian CDs issued by ASV during the first half of the 1990s. They are ASV CD DCA 859: (Battle of Stalingrad, originally with Second Symphony); 773 (Masquerade); 884 (Valencian Widow originally with Gayaneh Suite 2; Danses fantastiques) and 964 (Dance Suite – in that case complete with all five movements, originally with Piano Concerto, Five Pieces).

The music from the Soviet era of a son of the then Armenian SSR is vivid to put it mildly. While Khachaturian wrote no operas he was active in every other musical sphere: two grand ballets, three symphonies, three concertos and three concerto-rhapsodies, overtures, marches, hortatory odes, songs with orchestra, incidental music for stage (20 plays) and screen (30 films), chamber music and piano solos. His Violin Concerto won the Stalin Prize in 1941 and swept across the world – a feted ambassador for the Soviet Union in the heart of capitalism. The ballet Spartacus secured the Lenin Prize in 1959. The great names among soloists flocked to play his works. While the apex of his international success seems to have been the 1940s his music has held its place in catalogue and concert hall. Soviet recordings were plentiful but it was only with ASV’s Khachaturian project in collaboration with Brian Culverhouse and Loris Tjeknavorian that the less prominent works made an appearance on record. There have been other discs of rarer items from Naxos, Citadel and Delos but often these have been isolated discs; nothing to compare with ASV’s sustained effort.

The wartime Masquerade suite is the most famous of the pieces here. Lermontov wrote the play to which these pieces are extracts from the incidental music. It’s burly and garish music with an irresistible Soviet glare to the orchestration which sounds a little like Capriccio Italien on steroids. Two dignified movements are placed among the super extrovert standards. The central Mazurka mixes Armenian exotic with what sounds like the twirling parasols of a Savannah Hollywood ball but transplanted to Yerevan. The finale sounds a little like Vaudeville meets the Folies Bergères – not so much oompah as whoompah! The latest piece in this collection is the six movement selection from a 1957 production of The Valencian Widow. There’s poetry aplenty here as well as a lovely boozy swerve to the clarinet line in the second movement. Vaudeville and Dick Van Dyke meet in the booted OTT Comic Dance. The sturm und drang of the Intermezzo acts as a down-beat angst-ridden palate cleanser. The very early Caucasian and Uzbek dances already carry the composer’s hallmarks including a fragile and trembling nostalgia in the latter although surprisingly there is also a touch of dissonance – the merest dusting. The score to the film of The Battle of Stalingrad is typically heroic-tragic with overtones of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred but hyper. Invasion references Germanic military band clichés. You can hear a much more extended selection from the film on a Marco Polo disc. Throughout you hear an orchestra that has not shaken free from the brazen, brassy roar of a soviet orchestra at full pelt. Glorious.

Rob Barnett


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