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Aram Il’yich KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Original piano works and transcriptions
Toccata (1932) [4:37]
Two pieces (1926) [4:02]
Spartacus – Suite No.2: Adagio (arr. Matthew Cameron)* [9:07]
Poem (1927) [7:00]
Piano sonata (1961) [26:00]
Masquerade – Suite (arr. Alexander Dolukhanian) (excerpts) (1944/1952)* [11:06]
*world première recordings
Kariné Poghosyan (piano)
rec. 2013, Gordon K. and Harriet Greenfield Hall/Charles Myers recording studio, Manhattan School of Music, New York, USA
GRAND PIANO GP673 [61:57]

Anyone who thinks only of ballet music when they hear the name Khachaturian and specifically of The Onedin Line, which 1970s BBCTV series used the adagio from his ballet Spartacus, would do well to audition this disc. It will shatter that pigeonhole and teach us that there was a whole lot more to this composer than the above or even than the violin concerto and the symphonies.

The Toccata is a staggering tour de force that massively impresses from the very first notes as it gathers a seemingly unstoppable momentum. This propels the music forward in a headlong dash then suddenly slows. It then enters a more rhapsodic interlude before returning to its initial white hot crucible of notes that brings to mind a torrent of arrows flying through the air, finally ending on a somewhat calmer note. It was one of those pieces I remembered hearing on the car radio and which forced me to stop in order to concentrate on it. Such was its impact I was reluctant to allow the tempo of the music to be mirrored in my driving for fear of crashing. The Two Pieces that follow together with the Toccata are part of a Suite though more often the Toccata has a life of its own, written as it was six years after these two which are markedly different in character. The Waltz-Caprice is dreamy while the upbeat Dance embodies a folksy nature.

As mentioned above the Adagio from his Spartacus ballet suite No.2 has always been so popular it was inevitable that someone would arrange it for piano as it appears here. Even stripped of the spellbinding atmosphere that the orchestral version creates the core of this emotional music is still very able to weave its spell. Poem, an early work from 1926 shows how gifted Khachaturian was in coming up with unerringly beautiful melodies from the earliest part of his career.

The Piano Sonata from 1961 is a major work by any standards. In it I often detected elements that appear in The Sabre Dance from his ballet Gayaneh. I imagine that within most of Khachaturian’s music the essence of Armenian folk music can be found with its distinctly central Asian flavour. Hence finding such traces in an otherwise quite formally classical work makes for a refreshingly different experience. It represents something broken free from the European tradition with which we are all much more familiar. With its contrasting periods of calm and thoughtful reflection and abruptly explosive outbursts this sonata captures and holds our interest; this across three movements and twenty-six minutes right up to its dynamic conclusion.

The disc ends with excerpts from Alexander Dolukhanian’s arrangement of Khachaturian’s suite from his ballet Masquerade. Richard Whitehouse in his booklet notes calls it one of the composer’s most appealing scores. I find that there is nothing in his output that I don’t find appealing such was his uncanny ability to write melodies that hold instant appeal. I wouldn’t mind guessing that when people hear the waltz from this suite many find it one of those pieces they’ve always known but will not necessarily know what it was, what it was from or who wrote it; such is its ability to imprint itself indelibly on the subconscious. There will doubtless be those who feel that this facility for writing so many tunes that become popular makes him somewhat less serious a composer to the more cerebral ones whose music takes more listening before it can be appreciated. Certainly it was this facility that kept Khachaturian from the worst that the Soviet state could do to those who did not fulfil its remit to produce music that ‘the People’ could understand and relate to. Even so he had some problems in the 1930s in common with so many of his colleagues. He wrote music that has huge appeal with fabulous tunes and every mood from calm introspection to the most volcanically explosive. This disc amply demonstrates all these facets and there is not a moment that does not excite the senses. What really made an impression was the pianism of Kariné Poghosyan whose slight frame belies the power that she can unleash when necessary. The opening track shows that in spades. I also have Murray McLachlan playing several of the same pieces and have always enjoyed his performances; now I have had to reassess them and am left with the conclusion that this fiery Armenian pianist has the edge, bringing an excitement to the music that Khachaturian would have found as riveting as I did. Any lover of solo piano music cannot fail to find this disc a worthy and valuable addition to their library.

Steve Arloff


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