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Alexi MATCHAVARIANI (1913-1995)
Concerto for violin and orchestra (1949): three movements, tempos not known [29:53]
Liana Isakadze (violin)
USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vakhtang Matchavariani
rec. Moscow, 1977 (from Melodiya LP C-10 10945-6)

 



Here’s a name that even the most musically educated of readers might find unfamiliar. Alexi Matchavariani was a Georgian, who, as can be seen by his dates, spent most of his life under Soviet rule. He received the usual collection of grandiloquently titled Soviet awards, including the People’s Artist of the USSR and the USSR State Prize. Perhaps most significantly, he was one of the lesser composers along with Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian to be accused of "formalism" in 1948.

He wrote seven symphonies, concertos for piano, cello and violin, of course, , as well as ballet scores, and much chamber music. Some of this was recorded by Melodiya in the LP era (in some instances such as this one, conducted by his son Vakhtang), and this is where the current recording comes from, offered free of charge as an mp3 download. There are other recordings also available in the same way, including three of the symphonies, the ballet "Othello" and two string quartets.

Yehudi Menuhin is quoted as describing the concerto as "beautiful – it contains all the passion, the poetry and deep spirituality … added to the lyrical quality of the music there is a robust intellectual approach – all in all, a most memorable piece which any violinist would have great pleasure in interpreting". It was performed by David Oistrakh in the 1950s and was recorded outside the USSR on the Columbia label, though I cannot find who the soloist was. [LP Westminster XWN 18535: USSR State Radio Orchestra, O. Dmitriade (cond), M. Vaiman (violin) according to Onno van Rijen - Len]

Despite the date of composition, this is not a neo-Romantic work, but one firmly of the Romantic era. In fact, you might imagine it to be the violin concerto that Rachmaninov never wrote. It is cast in the traditional Romantic three-movement format of Brahms and Tchaikovsky: the first, the longest, where the composer shows his skill in developing themes, the second, a gorgeous adagio, and the finale, a virtuoso crowd pleaser.

The first movement (I can find no tempo indications) features development of two very contrasting themes: the first, pulsating and vibrant and the second, meltingly lyrical. The slow movement has a more important role for the orchestra, and my first thought was "1930s filmscore" and brought to mind the Korngold concerto. The third movement has elements in the orchestra reminiscent of Shostakovich’s first piano concerto, but is dominated by the violin fireworks, which it is easy to imagine may be based on Georgian folk music.

The soloist is a fellow Georgian, well credentialed according to her website with two first places in international competitions in the 1960s and 70s. She is up to the technical demands of the outer movements, though the violin sounds a little harsh at times, for example, the furioso end (my tempo indication) to the finale. She has what I would call an older style of playing, dating back to the post-war period. This is particularly obvious in the slow sections of the first movement and in the slow movement.

This concerto is not going to supplant the Tchaikovsky in your affections, but it is at least as good, and in my opinion better, than the Khachaturian with which it is roughly contemporary. Surely Naxos, as it delves further into the obscure, could put this on its "to do" list. I note that there is a brand new Naxos release – 8.570324 – featuring 20th century works from the Caucasus region, which includes Georgia; I will be giving it a listen.

The sound quality is hardly exceptional, given the source, but at 192 kbps bitrate, it isn’t too bad for mp3, and at the price (!) you can hardly complain.

Marvellously entertaining, stirringly romantic and totally deserving of a new recording.

David J Barker

Note

The three files (one for each movement – a total of just over 40 Mb) are downloaded from another site – megaupload.com – which I believe to be benign, and free to use, as long as you only attempt to download one movement at a time, and are prepared to wait for 45 seconds before download starts.


 


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