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Tikhon KHRENNIKOV (b.1913)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in C major Op. 14 (1965) [18.55]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in C major Op. 23 (1974) [15.35]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C major Op. 21 (1972) [16.25]
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major Op. 28 (1983) [20.03]
Vadim Repin (violin) (1)
Maxim Vengerov (violin) (2)
Yevgeny Kissin (piano) (2)
Tikhon Khrennikov (piano (3)
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Fedoseyev
rec. live 1988 ADD
RELIEF CR 991058 [70.58]

What a line-up; Repin, Kissin, Vengerov! Khrennikov certainly commanded celebrity status and was able to call on these stars at the very start of their careers. No doubt Khrennikov's cultural supremo status helped. He was appointed by Stalin as permanent director of the Composers' Union of the USSR - a position he held for 43 years. That very status and his role in connection with the denunciation of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and others has played its part in the neglect of his music. As if politics, even of the most extreme persuasion, had anything to do with musical merit.

In this disc of four Khrennikov concertos we are granted the privilege of making up our own minds. Each is in three movements. Each is compact - no more than twenty minutes long and as short as just over fifteen minutes. Each is in C major.

The First Violin Concerto is flashy and brash in the outer movements rather like the Kabalevsky Violin Concerto. Sparks fly and lightning flashes at breakneck speed with memories of the Khachaturyan's concerto slipping in. The andante espressivo picks up on the oriental enchantment that distinguishes so much Russian music stretching from the late 19th century onwards.

The Second Piano Concerto starts audaciously with a long introduction for the piano unaccompanied - the orchestra, silent until about 2.56 when the strings enter - sounding rather tortured it has to be said. The second movement sonata is a thunderous neo-Lisztian cauldron with Soviet style motor rhythms criss-crossing the landscape. Kissin relishes all of this as much as the glittering light-hearted rondo giocoso which is transformed into a far from bombastic thoughtful andantino which ends the concerto quietly.

The Second Violin Concerto begins in the usual access of virtuosic activity this time recalling Rawsthorne in the triumphal outer movements. The big Moderato second movement emerges after the allegro con fuoco ends self-effacingly. It has the feeling of an extended love song (tr.8 2.12) with the violin as the suitor. The theme is taken over by the orchestra and rises to a bombastic blare but even as this falls away the romantic theme returns in self possessed splendour. Vengerov is on fine form and even draws a bravo from the otherwise reticent Moscow audience.

The composer himself is soloist in the Third Piano Concerto. It carries the latest opus number in this selection. Like the Second Concerto it starts with the piano unaccompanied establishing itself as the Alpha male before the orchestra puts in an appearance. The orchestra enter with a pompous march theme with the soloist acting as raucous hortator rather than combatant. The music rises to a Technicolor climax with the unblushing use of crashing cymbals (tr.10 6.10). It ends in a sort of eerie postlude with the wraithlike violins 'rattling their chains' as the piano says a long farewell. Rather good. Another Moderato follows, in which the piano deliberately picks out a highly romantic theme with a musing Rachmaninovian character but edgily stony. As in the first movement so here; the music rises this time to a bruising brass orated climax (3.02) then falls away into silence ushered by the piano seemingly exhausted by the brazen climax. The finale's modest dissonance does little to dilute the effect of some excitably assertive music.

There is applause at the end of each of these concert performances. Judging by the photograph of all the soloists grouped around the composer they were given at a single celebratory concert.

Sadly the booklet tells us hardly anything about each Concerto.

This disc will appeal to a double audience. Collectors of Kissin, Vengerov and Repin recordings will have to have this; an invaluable souvenir of artistry in their early or late teens. The second and no doubt smaller audience will be those who are curious to hear the music of a leading establishment figure in Soviet music-making.

There are or have been a few other Khrennikov discs. Mobile Fidelity had the Second Symphony (MFCD 907). Vox Allegro had the same symphony and one of the violin concertos on a bargain price disc. Before that there had been a sparse scattering of LPs including several EMI-Melodiyas during the 1970s.

How best to sum his music up? It is showy but not without tenderness. Khrennikov can be compared with Kabalevsky but lacks that composer's ready gifts. His music tends to be more vinegary than Kabalevsky's and his themes do not have instantly captivating immediacy. There is dissonance in his music to a noticeably greater degree than Kabalevsky. This is not as extreme as say 1970s vintage Pärt (whom he no doubt villified) being closer to Rawsthorne.

Rob Barnett


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