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
also available on Naxos - Khachaturian brings the same melodic inspiration to
and Violin Concerto. Composed in 1961, the Concerto-Rhapsody
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.