The great Raymond Chandler once had his careworn
knight errant Philip Marlowe describe Khachaturian as "imitating
a tractor factory. He called it a violin concerto. I call it a
broken fan belt." Anyone care to remind me which of the novels
that came from. Given that I regard Chandler very highly I wish
I could agree with Marlowe. As it is I think it is one of Marlowe’s
less pungent and miscalculated witticisms – clever-ish but off
the mark. At the time – mid-1940s wartime USA the concerto was
playing with every major and minor state orchestra. The USA (stars
and stripes) and USSR (stars and hammers and sickles) were for
a few years locked in alliance and everything seemed possible.
an extremely attractive piece which taps into the Armenian’s usual
exotically sinuous folk-roots in the Andante sostenuto.
The outer movements are driven along on a blast of rhythmic energy
and in the finale a hiccupping Russian dance – nothing ethnic
about this dance.
version which majors on the voluptuous was one of three works
recorded at the Kingsway Hall in 1954 by the composer with the
Philharmonia. The others were excerpts from Gayaneh and
the Masquerade Suite. You can hear all of them if you can
track down the 1993 Khachaturian instalment in the EMI Composer
in Person series on CDC 555035.
This is a satisfying performance and far from
being unvirtuosic but there are more hothouse performances including
a fierily excellent one from Leonid Kogan on Russian Revelation
if you can find it.
The Reger-expansive suite by Taneyev was written
for Leopold Auer. It is a classic performance that has been repeatedly
reissued so you may have it in other couplings. I first came across
it on LP But a little more recently as part of EMI’s mid-1990s
Matrix series in which it formed volume 20 (EMI 5 65419 2) with
the Rostropovich/Sargent Miaskovsky Cello concerto. The Suite
makes for a discursive and pleasing ramble without being pungently
Russian in feeling. Malko, whose superb recordings of the first
and last Prokofiev symphonies should be better known, is a sure
and temperamental orchestral guide. The orchestra is very nicely
placed in relation to the soloist. This registers strongly in
the Keel Row-reminiscent Tarantella finale in which
the ripely singing solo counterpoints deliciously with the Massenet-style
The well pitched and interesting liner-notes
are by Tully Potter. These are supplemented with some a couple
of session photos and the cover sports a reproduction of the front
sleeve of the first LP issue of the Khachaturian.
This disc offers a Khachaturian Violin Concerto not short of fireworks but with
the emphasis on the voluptuous and the languid and a classic version
of the rare Taneyev Suite.