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Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Spartacus (highlights) (1950-1968) [32:13]
Gayaneh (highlights) (1942) [22:20]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Autumn from The Seasons Op.67 (1900) [12:32]*
London Symphony Orchestra/Aram Khachaturian, Philharmonia Orchestra/Yevgeny Svetlanov*
rec. No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 2-4 February and *3, 7 October 1977
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 0946 3 93229 2 3 [67:33]


Déja-vu all over again. Yes, this is exactly the same disc you have all seen before on Classics for Pleasure. Even the 1993 digital remastering is the same. The only difference is the livery, which has been updated in line with the new CfP look. If you already have this disc there is therefore no need to repurchase. If you do not have it yet, I can assure you that it is well worth the modest asking price. Aram Khachaturian was a fine conductor of his own music, and anyone wanting a sample of the music from this two most famous ballets cannot go wrong with this fine disc. 

The four selections from Spartacus make for a substantial orchestral suite, though it is necessarily a series of ballet highlights and lacks the thematic coherence of suites drawn from, say, Prokofiev's ballets. Nonetheless, the septuagenarian composer draws committed playing from the London Symphony Orchestra. The London Symphony Orchestra's ensemble is tight. The brass bray unreservedly, and there is some lovely detail from the woodwind too. Percussion are balanced quite forward and the recording is rather brightly lit, almost garish, but if anything this adds to the colour and carnival excitement of the musical fare. 

The strings dig deep and accents are sharp in the opening Variation of Aegina. Perhaps the tempo could canter more, but the pointing of rhythms keeps everything in sharp focus and maintains momentum. The snare seems to get a little in front of itself on the off beats about 5:50 through, but otherwise there is little to complain about. 

The famous Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia is surprisingly subtle. Khachaturian's tempo seems a little stiff at first and he does not swoon as so many others do, but he keeps the music moving forward. A little more purple would not go amiss here, but Khachaturian's slightly understated and sensitive rendition is still quite effective. 

The tension in the final two selections tends to wax and wane a little, but there are enough moments of colour – like the “Spanish” episode about half way through the final Dance Gaditanae – to keep you entertained. 

The music from Gayaneh is lighter and fluffier, but played with just as much commitment by the LSO. The opening Lezghinka, and the later boisterous selections (Storm, Mountaineers and the manic Sabre Dance) are lots of fun when played with such brio. Again, the recorded sound is brightly lit in a way that heightens the healthy vulgarity of this music in this full-throttle performance. The softer, more gentle music of the Lullaby and the Invention – this last an addition to the otherwise identical programme Khachaturian recorded for Decca a decade earlier – are also well served by the LSO strings. 

As a filler, CfP offers Svetlanov's high octane rendition of Autumn from Glazunov's ballet, The Seasons. The Philharmonia are caught in good form and full cry under his baton. Even the more sensitive episodes that punctuate the explosive Bacchanale are bursting with energy, making for a rousing conclusion to an enjoyable disc. 

Tim Perry 

And a further perspective from Rob Barnett:-

Political thaw was in the air in the 1970s; enough to allow both Aram Khachaturian and Yevgeny Svetlanov to make recordings with London orchestras. 

This disc is a memento of the vitality of the resulting sessions. The LSO already had glowing credentials from their Previn recordings of Russian repertoire. Their Rachmaniniov The Bells and two Prokofiev film cantatas have recently been reissued and they are startlingly good and sound grittily idiomatic. Khachaturian recorded the Spartacus 'suite' with the LSO in February 1977. It was to be his last recording for he died in Moscow the next year at the age of 75. This recording is not that of a feeble septuagenarian. Khachaturian draws out the pumping energy, delicious vulgarity, glitz and poetry we expect from these scores. The Spartacus movements amount to a sketched symphonic suite. If its other three movements are left shaded by the famous Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia there is plenty here to savour. Try the Dance of the Gaditanae with its confiding 'ticking' recalling Constant Lambert and Mahler's First Symphony. The ADD sound is good though not as brilliant as that for Yuri Simonov on Regis. The playing has more edginess than that adopted by the Vienna PO when the composer recorded the same suite with them in the 1960s but is not as gleamingly vulgar as that recorded by the composer with the USSRSO in the late 1960s. If you like Khachaturian - and I do as a guilty pleasure - then by all means start with this CFP collection but don’t forget to pick up the complete Spartacus on one of the various Russian sets. Similarly not to be missed is Tjeknavorian's stunningly recorded complete Gayaneh for RCA-BMG. Speaking of Gayaneh we are treated to six movements here. The Lezghinka and Mountaineers coveys a dervish-wild intoxication indebted to Borodin's feral Polovtsi. The lilting Lullaby with its graceful caprice is treasure indeed. Khachaturian knew how to write them! The Sabre Dance with its xylophone emphasis is again frenetic although in this recording I thought that the fire sometimes burnt a little lackadaisically. 

Yevgeny Svetlanov conducts a sharp-as-a-knife performance of one movement from Glazunov's flighty fanciful ballet The Seasons. The orchestra is the Philharmonia and they manage the deafening bustle of the bracing gales although the strings seem rather glassy when they should be sweet. All is redeemed in the final few minutes with swelling romance - part Rimskian; part Nutcracker. Svetlanov turns in a fine performance but this does not displace the one recorded years ago by Konstantin Ivanov on Melodiya. 

Rob Barnett 

 

 


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