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Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Concerto-Rhapsody in B flat minor for Violin and Orchestra (1961) [25:41]
Violin Concerto in D minor (1940) [38:17]
Nicholas Koeckert (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Colosseum, Town Hall, Watford, 10-11 April 2008. DDD
NAXOS 8.570988 [64:05] 
Experience Classicsonline

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 review).

The 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. 

The 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. 

Koeckert 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.

William Kreindler

see also Review by John-Pierre Joyce


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