Khachaturian seemed to think in threes: three symphonies, three
concertos, three concerto-rhapsodies, three solo string sonatas.
The works we are concerned with here provide a contrast in mood
and style as well as dating from radically different times in
the composer’s life. They are also a contrast in terms of fame.
The Concerto is one of the best-known Russian violin concertos,
with over two dozen recordings currently available. The Concerto-Rhapsody
is far less well-known and has only one other recording at present,
interestingly enough on the same label as this one (see
Violin Concerto dates from 1940 and solidified the
composer’s fame after the Symphony No. 1 and Piano Concerto.
It has all the folkloric verve that Khachaturian is associated
with in the popular mind, but equally demonstrates his ability
to channel that verve into classical procedures. The performance
here comes down a little strongly on the classical side as
it is very precise and well-thought-out, but neither can it
be said to lack excitement. Nicolas Koeckert shows wonderful
intonation in the first movement. He is especially good in
the responsive passages between the soloist and the orchestral
winds. In the cadenza he is not so interesting, but finishes
the movement very excitingly. He gets the true Armenian flavor
in the slow movement and plays the coda with its gradual dying
away to the end wonderfully. The third movement opens volcanically
and Serebrier provides plenty of excitement, in which up to
now he has been a little deficient. Koeckert could be a little
more dynamic here. In the middle section he again demonstrates
his well-defined style and in the last section all involved
demonstrate the true Khachaturian dynamism.
Concerto-Rhapsody shows the effects both of being written
twenty years after the Violin Concerto and of the composer’s
changed attitude towards Soviet life in general. Khachaturian
once said that “… a concerto is music with chandeliers burning
bright; a rhapsody is music with chandeliers dimmed and the
Concerto-Rhapsodies are both.” Actually this Concerto-Rhapsody
could be described as somber. The opening revolves closely
around the gloomy home key and broadens out somewhat through
the course of the section as it also becomes more folkloric,
but never loses its dark atmosphere. There is an interesting
use of the harp. The middle section is more lyrical, but still
distant and eventually returns to the mood of the opening
of the piece. The final section starts out in a more lively
vein, but cannot escape the influence of the tonic, heading
into a very mysterious passage, somewhat reminiscent of Prokofiev,
before a more conventional finale. Koeckert’s precision is
perfectly suited to this piece and he very effectively brings
out a variety of subtle shades, both harmonically and dramatically.
Serebrier also seems more engaged here than in the Concerto
and the overall impression is one of greater depth and variety
than many would normally associate with Khachaturian.
is a violinist of wide range and capability, although, as said
above, I preferred his approach in the more ruminative Concerto-Rhapsody.
Serebrier is well-known for his range of repertoire, which he
demonstrates again, although he did seem uncommitted to the Concerto
here. The Royal Philharmonic is in excellent form on this disc,
attacking everything that needs to be attacked and staying behind
the scenes when that is necessary. Unfortunately, Watford Town Hall is not
at its usual standard on this recording. There is a fair amount
of blaring in the Concerto and some blankness in both works. For
the Concerto there are recordings to suit every taste, but only
one other of the Concerto-Rhapsody and I would recommend this
one. It provides an excellent introduction to a comparative rarity
in the composer’s output.
see also Review
by John-Pierre Joyce