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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]
Nicolas Koeckert (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Town Hall, Watford, April 2008. DDD
NAXOS 8.570988 [64:05]
Experience Classicsonline

Naxos continues its strong tradition of bringing to light the works of neglected composers with this release of pieces for violin and orchestra by Soviet-Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian.

Best known for his sprawling ballet scores Spartacus and Gayane - also available on Naxos - Khachaturian brings the same melodic inspiration to the Concerto-Rhapsody and Violin Concerto. Composed in 1961, the Concerto-Rhapsody is a hybrid work cast in a single movement, but with two distinct sections. Essentially it is a vehicle for virtuosic violin playing, with only minor orchestral interjections. Nicolas Koeckert effortlessly rises to Khachaturian’s technical demands both here and in the concerto. He easily copes with the complexities of rapid scales, double-stopping and melodic shifts while at the same time giving a warm and impassioned reading. Because the work is essentially a soloist’s showcase, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under José Serebrier seldom get the chance to show off their own abilities, although there are some fine passages for low woodwind and harp. Perhaps the orchestra’s subordinate role is just as well, since the recording sets the players back some way off from Koeckert, making them sound distant and subdued.

Of the two works, the Concerto-Rhapsody probably holds more interest for the listener. In comparison, the Violin Concerto of 1940 sounds rather dated. The winner of the Stalin Prize that year, the concerto is accordingly conservative in structure and content. It is also distinctly unthreatening and unprovocative when compared to similar works composed by Khachaturian’s contemporaries Prokofiev and Shostakovich at around the same time. Nevertheless, the concerto’s overall lyricism and folk colourings make for pleasant listening. The central Andante, for example, contains a beautiful, fluid violin line. The dance themes in the final Allegro are also foot-tappingly catchy, although they are not fully developed. The opening Allegro has its high points too - notably a fiendishly complex cadenza - but it is also punctuated by some rather hollow dramatic gestures in the orchestra which somehow don’t lead anywhere and never quite manage to lift the movement off the ground.

John-Pierre Joyce 


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