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Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Concerto-Rhapsody in B flat minor (1961-2) [23:11]
Sergei LYAPUNOV (1859-1924)
Violin Concerto in D minor Op.61 (1915) [22:06]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Sonata-Monologue for solo violin (1975) [12:31]
Hideko Udagawa (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Alan Buribayev
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, England, 28-29 October 2011

Experience Classicsonline

If ever there was a disc that Khachaturian’s detractors wanted to use as ammunition to show him as a crude and crass composer this might just be the one.
It pains me, and I take no pleasure at all in reporting that there is little credit to be taken by anyone from this disc. By the time Khachaturian came to write this extended one movement work in 1961 he’d left behind the nationalistic colourful - one might say brash - style that made his name. There are elements that remain but in essence this is a rather harsh, unrelenting almost mechanistic work. For once, I cannot agree with liner writer Malcolm MacDonald that this is a finer work than the 1940 Violin Concerto. Perhaps in subtler more nuanced hands there might appear some musical magic to conjure with. Here violinist Hideko Udagawa attacks the music from her opening cadenza in an unrelenting bullish onslaught. There is almost no light and shade and even less rhapsodising. In one sense I applaud a player who is willing to sacrifice sheer sonic beauty in the service of the spirit of a piece. However, too often the compromises seem a consequence of technical shortcomings rather than musical choice. Khachaturian writes extended passages of complex double-stopping - Udagawa unrelentingly accents the lower notes of the chords to give her a spring-board to the upper notes. Passages in octaves are subject to suspect intonation and too often bow control issues give long lines an unseemly bump. In all of this she is aided by conductor Alan Buribayev who seems unwilling or unable to persuade the RPO to play with any real light and shade - we go from loudish to louder and almost no ebb and flow at all. It sounds as though he simply does not know what to do with the piece. I have not seen a score for this work but I find it impossible to believe that there is not more subtlety written into the work than the performance given here would imply. Because the RPO are extremely competent players the orchestral part is played perfectly well but without that extra engagement an inspiring conductor must bring to music that teeters on the brink of the banal at the best of times. Even the usually excellent engineering of Mike Hatch seems to have been caught up in the malaise afflicting these sessions - has the Henry Wood Hall ever sounded so airless and monochrome. I cannot think of a more dispiriting twenty-three minute slugging match of a performance that I have heard in some time.
The coupling with the Lyapunov makes sense - its another single movement work of relative rarity. I have not heard the recent Naxos disc so have no comparison to make. For sure it is a more lyrical work closer to the style of Glazunov and Arensky but without the melodic memorability of either. Udagawa is prone to the shortcomings mentioned previously to which must be added some ungainly scoops in the more lyrical sections and some pyrotechnic arpeggiated passages that end on notes of suspect intonation and no beauty.
The disc is rather oddly completed with a work for solo violin. This is of interest because of its rarity and the fact that it was Khachaturian’s penultimate work. Here MacDonald is undoubtedly right to assign it a bardic folkloric character. This seems to chime with Ms Udagawa’s penchant for full-frontal assaults on music and thereby this is the most convincing performance on the disc. In the hands of those with a greater sense of fantasy and a willingness to relax I could imagine this being of real interest. Here it remains subject to a strangely aggressive style which I found thoroughly lacking in appeal.
Not a disc I will return to.
Nick Barnard

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