Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
CD 1
Spartacus – excerpts [32:17]
Piano Concerto [36:57]
Four pieces from Pictures of Childhood [5:39]
A Glimpse of the Ballet (Invention) – Adagio from Gayaneh [3:39]
CD 2
Gayaneh - excerpts [7:39]
Violin Concerto in D minor [35:34]
Masquerade Suite [14:22]
Mindru Katz (piano), Cristina Ortiz (piano); David Oistrakh (violin);
London Symphony Orchestra/Aram Khachaturian; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult; Philharmonia Orchestra/Aram Khachaturian; Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra/Alfred Newman
rec. Kingsway Hall, November 1954; Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, December 1958; Samuel Goldwyn Studios, Hollywood, May 1959; Abbey Road Studios, December 1975 and February 1977. ADD
EMI CLASSICS 6278902 [78:43 + 72:33]

Once again, EMI have delved into their archives and put together a number of recordings from the past onto this double-CD set of works by Khachaturian.

Ranging from 1954 to 1977, the recordings are of variable quality – both in terms of their sound technology and musical substance. The main works of interest are those conducted by Khachaturian himself – the Spartacus and Gayaneh excerpts, and the violin concerto. Directing the London Philharmonic in 1977, the composer gives a fairly straight account of the famous bits from his two ballets. Lush, tuneful and ‘exotic’ in the acceptable Soviet style, they are still irresistibly attractive, but hardly great music.

The big surprise, however, is Khachaturian conducting the Philharmonia in his violin concerto, with David Oistrakh as soloist. Recorded in the Kingsway Hall in 1954, it really is a revelation, placing the concerto on a much higher shelf of fine violin concertos than subsequent interpretations have managed. Written in 1940 with Oistrakh’s advice, the concerto won the Stalin Prize of that year and is accordingly conservative in structure and content. Nevertheless, its lyricism and folk colouring make for captivating listening, and in Khachaturian’s and Oistrakh’s hands the orchestral richness and technical complexity of the solo writing are fully revealed. Despite its age, the re-mastered recording (produced by Walter Legge) also sounds clear and sonorous, with excellent balance between solo and orchestral passages.

Less exciting is the 1958 recording of the piano concerto, with Mindru Katz and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Adrian Boult. It really is a plain work, searching for meaning but never finding it. Amid the meandering solo part, the concerto is punctuated by some rather hollow dramatic gestures in the orchestra which fail to lift it off the ground.

The other works on this sprawling set sound and feel more like time-fillers than notable musical works. Indeed, Khachaturian’s capacity for self-recycling is strongly evident in the Glimpse of the Ballet for solo piano (played by Cristina Ortiz), which uses the adagio theme from Gayaneh. The Masquerade Suite raises a smile with its unashamed rumbustiousness, especially in the celebrated manic galop. But the recording by the Hollywood Bowl orchestra at the Samuel Goldwyn studios says a lot about its musical quality.

John-Pierre Joyce

Time-fillers rather than notable musical works yet this Oistrakh recording places the violin concerto on a much higher shelf of fine concertos.