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Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Masquerade - Suite (1944) from the incidental music (1941) to Lermontov's play (Waltz; Nocturne; Mazurka) [11:19]
Violin Concerto in D minor (1940) (cadenza in I by David Oistrakh) [35:33]
Gayaneh - Orchestral Suite (1943) from the ballet in four acts (1939-42) - scenario by Derzhavin (Dance of the Rose-Maidens; Ayesha's Awakening and Dance; Lullaby; Gayaneh's Adagio; Lezghinka; Lyrical Duet of Ayesha and Armen; Dance of the Old Men and Women; Sabre Dance) [31:26]
David Oistrakh (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Aram Khachaturian
rec. London, Kingsway Hall, November-December 1954. Mono. ADD

This is another well merited rescue by Arkiv who struck a deal with the majors to sell swathes of their deleted items under a custom production arrangement. Initially sold without liner-notes the product now offered by online retailer Arkiv is of high quality and is now pretty much identical  to the original except for the Arkiv logo.

The princes among EMI's Composers in Person series issued 1994-1997 included the Medtner collection and two others which I missed first time round: this one and the Schmitt/Roussel collection. The wide-ranging series drew exclusively on EMI's recordings between 1904 and 1958 and was masterminded by Ken Jagger. It was iconic and it was lamentable that it should have been deleted so quickly. 

These mono recordings made in London half a century ago sound very well indeed. Grainy but vibrant they have a gritty thrusting immediacy which fits well with Khachaturian's music. 

Masquerade was Lermontov's version of ‘Othello’ which was staged with this music in Moscow just the day before Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. The Waltz is overpoweringly grand with a good melody and a streaming tail motif.  There is a hoarse-toned shadowy violin solo in the soulful Nocturne before a return to sumptuously frivolous Mazurka which always sounds to  me like the soundtrack to a supercharged Hollywood Easter Parade with flouncy white dresses and twirling parasols. The idiom might well fit with the sumptuous musicals encouraged by Stalin for the Soviet Union’s theatres – a genre that deserves reappraisal. Light music with a heavy hand but instantly captivating.

Sounding a mite less grainy and certainly 'cleaner', the Violin Concerto here is played by its dedicatee who also contributes his own cadenza at the end of the long first movement. It's a well known piece but the spiralling alternately kinetic then swooning romantic Allegro is followed by an andante which sinuously explores oriental sultriness. The finale blasts its way back into driven and supercharged  kinetic energy and jerkily sparked romance. Oistrakh is gorgeous in this but do try Kogan and Tretiakov if you can find them. Perhaps not a first choice given vintage sound but a rewarding second version. For a first choice try a later version from Oistrakh on BMG Melodiya if you can track it down. If you do not know this work but perhaps know the Barber, Korngold or Walton the chances are you will love it. Get it. 

After the concerto comes a goodly portion of the Gayaneh ballet score. This taps into the folk music of Armenia, Georgia and the Ukraine. It's light but by no means insubstantial and inhabits another world from the OTT Masquerade music. Here are eight movements from the four act ballet written between 1939 and 1942. The Dance of the Rose-Maidens is graceful and optimistic. Ayesha's Awakening sounds more tensely mysterious than ever before with almost fearful birdsong and moves almost imperceptibly into Ayesha's swooning dance complete with saxophone solo/. I wonder, did Khachaturian know Rachmaninov's contemporaneous Symphonic Dances? The reedy lulling of the oboe in Lullaby  sounds warmly Baxian at one moment then fades into one of the most gracious themes in all music - caressingly done here with avian woodwind chirrups accentuating the kindly melody. Gayaneh's Adagio is more austere and with even a hint of the second Viennese school. The Lezghinka whirls us back to Borodin's Polovtsi camp. The Lyrical Duet and Dance of the Old Men and Women may be flatter but they prepare the scene for Khachaturian's most famous piece - the Sabre Dance which erupts, blares, oompahs and strafes its spangled way through 2:10. 

Unmissable for Khachaturian enthusiasts and by all means have this as the sole representation of the composer if you can live with brilliant vivacious sound minus the last degree of refinement.

Rob Barnett



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