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Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Piano Concerto in D flat (1936) [36:32]
Sonatina (1959) [8:36]
Toccata (1932) [4:33]
Alberto Portugheis (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Loris Tjeknavorian
Rec. St Barnabas Church, Woodside Park, London, 17-18 Nov 1986

Portugheis was born in Argentina of Russian and Rumanian parents. Here, in the Concerto, he combines finely sensitive playing with bravura. The playing called for and delivered is often unblushingly braw and this is the predominant currency of the two outer movements; is that a touch of ragtime I hear in the finale? There is some fairly unsubtle stuff in this concerto but also a few reflective episodes. The romantic second movement with the flexatone solo (here discreetly balanced and rather whoozy) is a sort of ‘Nights in the Gardens of Armenia’. That movement gels memorably towards the end at 7.48 onwards where it takes on an heroic, bloodied but unbowed tone perhaps infused with the suffering of the Armenian people. The whole work is touched with that sinuously exotic Middle Eastern accent that so marks out Khachaturian’s mature works.

The Concerto dates from the year of Khachaturian’s marriage to fellow composer Nina Makarova (1908-1976) whose Symphony is on Russian Disc RD CD 11 382. It was written with the benefit of comments from Prokofiev. Interestingly the ‘cries of pain’ in the first movement recall vividly a work to be written five years later: Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7. The dedicatee was Lev Oborin and the work was given its UK premiere in the heady atmosphere of joint Soviet-British alliance at the old Queen’s Hall on 13 March 1940. The work became a signature piece for the glamorous Moura Lympany who gave that premiere in a concert conducted by Alan Bush. The same concert included the UK premiere of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Rather like the Violin Concerto completed in the same year as the UK premiere the Piano Concerto gained a cult following amongst the Allied nations especially in the USA where it was championed exhaustively by Kapell, Levant and Rubinstein.

If you do not know this concerto and you have a sweetly romantic tooth with a taste for heroic Russian Asiatica, this is worth tracking down. It is by no means as insinuatingly memorable as the Violin Concerto but will provide much pleasure.

After so much ‘grandstanding’ it is good to have the contrast of the knuckle-cracking Sonatina written two years before the first of the three Concerto-Rhapsodies (violin). The ideas are pristinely laid out, crystalline clear and with a very slight neo-classical accent in the andante. The glimmeringly exuberant Toccata, though from two decades previously, links stylistically with the outer movements of the Sonatina.

These works have been recorded in a very lively - some might say raging - acoustic. The bass drum is captured with stunning grip by Brian Culverhouse and his team. I always suspected that the ‘colour mix’ was set to its most ‘drenched’ position whenever Culverhouse worked with Tjeknavorian - glorious stuff!

The CD follows the original LP format. It was in fact issued in all three formats: LP: DCA589; cassette: ZCDCA589 and CD: CDDCA58 in November 1987.

This CD now appears repackaged for the bargain shelves which helps compensate for the short playing time. If you like Sanctuary’s highly coloured, technicolour sound-signature there’s no real reason to hesitate at this bargain price.

Rob Barnett


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