These recordings were made between 1965 and 1979 and are in superior vivid
Melodiya sound, slightly brazen but well-suited to the Bakst-style exoticism
and grandeur of the music. Khachaturyan has been rather despised in some
quarters where he has been associated with a certain shallowness, obvious
ideas and a Hollywood-endowed musical style. This is grossly unfair as various
recordings are now beginning to make clear. The ASV series with the Armenian
Philharmonic conducted by Loris Tjeknavorian is testament to Khachaturyans
strengths. And what about those strengths? He writes in full-blooded romantic
style reaching back a generation to Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Balakirev.
He is strong on the exotic and the mesmeric.
This generous and well-presented selection on a BMG-Twofer further bears
out the Armenian composers strengths. It also gives us access to two
of his rarer works: two of the three concert rhapsodies. From this point
of view and many others the set stands as an example to others in adventurous
programming of the familiar and attractively safe alongside enterprising
repertoire to be discovered.
Not to be forgotten is the fact that all these recordings are conducted by
the composer. Even in old age he lacks nothing in communicative vigour and
a whirring imagination. The soloists are of world front-rank, usually the
The first symphony was premiered by Eugen Szenkar in Moscow on 23 April 1935.
It is a dedicatedly tonal work of exotic caste. It is extremely colourful
and tuneful. The Armenian sway of the themes is characteristic but there
is another element too. He sounds in those first five minutes very much as
if he had been studying alongside Miklos Rózsa. This is a big three
movement work running 40:52. There is also a coincidental hint of Vaughan
Williams (6:10 ). Invention sparkles and there is a definite rush of energy
in this music comparable to the English composer E.J. Moeran in his 1937
symphony or for that matter in Kodalys 1959 symphony. Romance is not
in short supply - listen to 9:25  for a resplendently glistening tune
worthy of Borodin. This tune develops into a great set-piece. The work was
written to celebrate 50 years of Soviet power but Khachaturyan was no apparatchik
and his vision (not realised under the Soviets) was for a relief to
Armenias suffering and a new and elevated dignity for his people. The
music has echoes across the continents and the works of de Falla, Prokofiev
and other leading composers do come to mind from time to time. The second
movement occasionally attains a loftiness of ideal (8:20). The Finale is
predominantly a spirited gallop - brash and rushing. This concert recording
complete with applause does not displace the Tjeknavorian recording on ASV
which exudes greater intensity. However the composer-conducted recording
is extremely good and must have a greater claim to authenticity. This is
one of those cases where the one movement is much stronger than the other
two and certainly the last two movements seem rather pallid by comparison
with the grand romantic gestures of the first.
The Violin Concerto has been recorded many times: at least four of them by
the soloist here, David Oistrakh. There is a recording by Leonid Kogan (on
Revelation) which has even more electricity and elan than the present version
but its sound is fierce and a little unrelenting. There are virtuosic
performances by various western orchestras with amongst others Ricci and
Zukerman. None of these however, has the high-tension electric-shock of Kogan
still less the clarity and barbaric edge of Oistrakhs zippy and poetic
playing. The Melodiya version is a reliable and inspired version combining
good sturdy sound with Russian temperament. There are many highlights but
take one example and listen to the scorching evocation of what I always think
of as licking tongues of flame in finale at 5:45 track 6.
The Piano Concerto-Rhapsody has been recorded before by Oxana Yablonskaya
on Naxos. That too is a warmly energetic performance. However the redoubtable
bravura technique of Nikolai Petrov conquers all in its path. The work was
first written in 1955 but was specially revised in 1965 for Petrov who made
this recording in 1975. Ivan March has been rather scathing of this piece.
While it may be no world-shattering masterpiece it is a grippingly entertaining
piece of display music with a soft and yielding centre. The insistently motoric
fingerwork for the pianist conjures up memories of the Shostakovich second
piano concerto but then the Shostakovich dates from 1957 and the present
work from 1955.
As befits the instrument (and the title), the cello concerto-rhapsody is
more waywardly rhapsodic. It opens with something which sounds suspiciously
like the Fate motto from Tchaikovskys 4th symphony. Its themes lack
the immediate distinctiveness and memorability of the Violin Concerto or
indeed the piano concerto-rhapsody. It nevertheless receives a concentrated
and obviously intense and deeply-felt performance from Karine Georgian. I
certainly do not write off this cello work which I shall be tempted to return
to again. It several times set me thinking of Blochs Schelomo for
the same combination of instruments and much the same dreamy meandering spirit.
Certainly both Bloch and Khachaturyan have a feeling for the strange and
Hollywoodian exotic though here the Armenian composer has the edge.
The remaining six tracks are taken from a live concert in the Grand Hall
of the Moscow Conservatory in 1975. From the ballet Gayaneh we get
the Awakening (complete with saxophone contribution) and
Aishas Dance the latter clearly the quarry from which Basil
Poledouris must have obtained at least some of his inspiration for his Conan
film music. The Dance seems about to launch into a waltz but never quite
manages it. It is in any event a sumptuous and substantial wallow recorded
in gloriously immersive sound. The rather manic oompah jollity of Russian
Dance wears a bit thin quite quickly. The black brass of Kurdish
dance are commanding. The hammering and whirling dervish Prince
Igor inflected festivities are brightly and garishly lit. The Sabre
Dance won him world fame in the 1940s and is here hammered away for all
it is worth - perhaps more. The trombones blurt and raspberry as if their
lives depended on it. I wonder if the composer ever became tired of it.
The final track on disc 2 is the swooping and swooning adagio from
Spartacus. This piece rose to fame in the UK and possibly abroad now,
when it was featured as the signature tune for the BBCs Victorian sailing
drama The Onedin Line. Here it is given with a fine
combination of faltering innocence, bird-song and unbridled erotic (listen
to the trumpets) romance. What strong piece this is! One slight cough is
the only evidence of its concert-hall provenance.
It is not really possible to compare the whole set with anything else as
there are no identical or even close couplings. Perhaps one good example
is the Double Decca of Khachaturyan Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Concerto for
Piano and Orchestra, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor and Masquerade
with various Western orchestras conducted by Khachaturyan, Fruhbeck
Frühbeck de Burgos, Fistoulari; and Stanley Black but the Melodiya selection
is more adventurous, the performances generally more vivid and peppery and
the Melodiya playing time is a couple of minutes longer.
Good notes by Sigrid Neef. These are also in French and German.
A recommended Twofer anthology.
I hope that there is another in the pipeline including Kachaturyan conducting
Symphonies 2 and 3, the cello concerto, piano concerto and the violin concert