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Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Chamber Music
Adagio – from Spartacus ballet (arr. piano trio by A. Pivazyan) [8:32]
Trio for clarinet, violin and piano [15:42]
Dance for violin and piano [4:43]
Lullaby – from Gayaneh ballet (arr. piano trio by A. Pivazyan) [4:29]
Sabre Dance – from Gayaneh ballet (arr. piano trio by R. Asatryan) [2:23]
Sonata for violin and piano [16:44]
Song-Poem for violin and piano [6:03]
Mariam Kharatyan (piano)
Adam Grüchot (violin), Leonardo Sesenna (cello), Stig Nordhagen (clarinet)
rec. 2018, Kilden Teater of Konserthus, Kristiansand, Norway
SIMAX PSC1373 [58:36]

For me, Armenian Aram Khachaturian is the third greatest Soviet composer, next to Shostakovich and Prokofiev. To the Western world his reputation is primarily built on his ballets, Gayaneh (1942) and Spartacus (1954) but his violin concerto from 1940 is also a favourite and there are dozens of recordings available. I have for many years treasured a recording by Henryk Szeryng with Antal Dorati conducting. But Khachaturian’s chamber music is seldom heard and recorded and this new SIMAX disc fills a gap in the catalogues, even though some of the pieces are arrangements by others. The four musicians here are an interesting mix of nationalities with an Armenian pianist, a Polish violinist, a Norwegian clarinettist and an Italian cellist.

Khachaturian’s music is firmly based on Armenian folk music, colourful, harmonically interesting and rhythmically thrilling. It is no accidental occurrence that he became so successful with his ballets.

The opening number, the adagio from Spartacus, will be remembered by the millions of people who watched the BBC TV series The Onedin Line, which ran from 1971 to 1980. The impact of the sweeping strings of the original is naturally diminished in this version for piano trio but I am sure all those who watched the series will conjure up the image of the topsail schooner ploughing its way through the waves. But the ballet has of course nothing to do with 19th century British seafarers. Instead it depicts the uprising in Rome 74 – 71 B.C. when 120 000 slaves led by Spartacus fought for freedom. As Mariam Kharatyan points out in her liner notes, Khachaturian could identify with their struggle after the 1948 damnation of which he and his colleagues Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Myaskovsky were victims. She quotes him saying “I was crushed, destroyed. I seriously considered changing professions”, and it took him long time to come back. He eventually decided to go to Armenia, back to his roots and travelled to the villages where he got associations from his childhood and got inspiration that allowed him to start working on the ballet – it took him four years to complete it but today it stands as a monument over his creative power. Even though there is no connection between ancient Rome and Armenia, his use of the folk music influences undoubtedly infuse the work with a personal tone that is his own. The arrangement is effective and the musicians play with an intensity that is “orchestral”.

The trio for clarinet, violin and piano brings us back more than twenty years, to the time when he studied at the Moscow Conservatory for Myaskovsky. Here the folk music is omnipresent. Prokofiev liked it so much that he took the score with him and had it performed in Paris – which was the first time a composition of Khachaturian’s was played outside the Soviet Union. The first movement is melodious with the clarinet very much in the focus, the second movement dances energetically while the third, after a slow introduction, is a fireworks display of jazzy syncopations and fascinating rhythms.

The Dance for violin and piano is even earlier, written in 1926 when he studied at Gnessin Music School. The folk music influence is again tangible. Two of the most famous numbers from the ballet Gayaneh will certainly attract readers who know them from various arrangements. In particular the Sabre dance exists in umpteen versions and is regularly played at breakneck tempo. Here, in piano trio disguise the tempo is more moderate which allows the listener to savour both poly-rhythmical subtleties and melodies that can be more ironed-out in a speedier context. The Lullaby is beautifully played and stands out as possibly the best thing on this disc.

The Sonata for violin and piano from 1932, the same year as the clarinet trio and is “perhaps Khachaturian’s most neglected and rarely performed composition”. The composer himself was critical to it and it wasn’t published until 1984. A note in that score says that “Khachaturian … did not consider the sonata completed”. I find the slow first movement beautifully melodious with a lot of tempo fluctuations, and Khachaturian’s tempo indication is just “rubato” which gives the movement an improvisational character. The second movement is much longer, with fast and rhythmical sections alternating with more lyrical. The folk music relation is very obvious and the music breathes vitality.

Also the concluding Song-Poem from 1929 is full of folk music references and again there is a feeling of improvisation. These are all deeply committed performances and readers with a taste for music off the beaten track but still written by a well-known composer should give this disc a chance. In the bargain you’ll also get a couple of lollipops in unusual arrangements. Mariam Kharatyan’s liner notes are utterly illuminating.

Göran Forsling

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