> KHACHATURIAN Cello concerto Regis [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Cello Concerto
Cello-Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra
Marina Tarasova, cello
Symphony Orchestra of Russia
Veronika Dudarova
Recorded Moscow Radio Studio 5, 1994
REGIS RRC 1094 [63’22]



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I’ve tried repeatedly to make headway with Khachaturian’s Cello Concerto and Concerto-Rhapsody but to no avail. This is decidedly not the fault of the estimable cellist Marina Tarasova – a star of the Miaskovsky Cello discography – nor of conductor Veronika Dudarova, nor of the perfectly serviceable Moscow orchestra or indeed the recording. Acknowledging the fault may be mine I have to say I emerged battered by Khachaturian’s insistence and spurious grandiloquence. Dating from 1946 the Cello Concerto was the first major post-War work written by the then Deputy Chairman of the Composers’ Union and first performed by two of the greatest figures in Soviet musical life, cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky and conductor Alexander Gauk in Moscow, in October of that year. From its Technicolor opening and musing cello figures through its Armenian folk trappings and woodwind melismas I found the writing choppy and discursive and insufficiently cohesive but Tarasova does play with admirable engagement and commitment, vesting her solo line with a keening eloquence, well equalized throughout the scale from percussive bass through to the lean focused top of her compass. She varies her tone as well in some of the more fractious passages of the work with expert musicality and there is certainly plenty of orchestral incident to titillate the ear – from the violent orchestral attacks to the very sinuous and insinuating woodwind writing and plenty of technical and expressive demands to be made on the soloist, not least in the extended first movement cadenza. This is musing, keening and replete with difficulty but there is a fatal lack of distinction as the orchestra theatrically embarks on new fractious episodes at 16’02. The rather menacing slow movement is certainly, as the notes suggest, oriental and melismatic but I’m afraid I failed to hear the "desperation" I’m told I should hear – and this implied analogue to Shostakovich, though he’s not referred to in the notes, seems to me profoundly misplaced. There are elements of persuasive lyricism here it’s true but again ones that ultimately lacked formal coherence. There is certainly an insistence bordering on obsession in the finale with its emotive cello and use of material from the first movement but the conclusion seems to me colossally and overwhelmingly assertive in a sense that reveals limitations rather than emphasising strengths.

The Concerto-Rhapsody was written for and premiered by one of the younger generation of cellists, Mstislav Rostropovich (premiered at the Royal Festival Hall with the LSO under George Hurst). It is a formally odd work with an abrupt insistent cello cadenza, plenty of momentum – much of it illusory – and "incident." Intriguingly Khachaturian then reverses the roles, with the orchestra spinning the lyric line and the cello harmonising around it. There are some Armenian dance sections in the Allegro Animato but to be frank this is, if anything, a considerably less interesting and engaging work than the Cello Concerto, tending as it does to the vapid and utilising colour and orchestral bluster as a means by which to occlude poverty of thematic material. I wasn’t convinced by either work but the advocacy of the performers is admirable and deserving of the highest merit.

Jonathan Woolf

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