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Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Violin Concerto (1940) [39:10]
Concerto Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra (1961) [23:24]
Antje Weithaas (violin)
Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie/Daniel Raiskin
rec. 2016/17, Rhein-Mosel Halle, Koblenz
CPO 555 093-2 [62:37]

The technical demands of Khachaturian's Violin Concerto rival anything in the standard Romantic concerti; its lyrical passages are heartfelt, and the flashy bits are crowd-pleasers. Yet, despite the vigorous advocacy of its dedicatee, David Oistrakh - who did everything vigorously - the piece couldn't escape a reputation as a two-bit potboiler.

More recently, however, the concerto is experiencing a revival. On Avie, Rachel Barton Pine's sprightly buoyancy enlivens the outer movements, and takes the central Andante sostenuto to overt sadness. On this CPO recording, the German violinist Antje Weithaas shows us another way, playing the score seriously and with concentration, eliciting from it an unexpected stature.

Weithaas is particularly fine in the outer movements. The first, propelled by the soloist's taut address and firm, incisive attacks, goes with a nice drive; the second theme sings simply and plaintively at the same pulse. The soloist's tone is warm but restrained, with pinpoint intonation producing an exceptional purity. The finale's main theme, too, is taut, but also lilting; in the plaintive, undulating second theme, Weithaas manages a yielding phrasing without compromising the basic pulse.

The orchestra under Daniel Raiskin seconds Weithaas admirably. A few softer string accompaniments in the first movement sound tentative, though you have to listen closely. The conductor's most valuable contributions come in the Andante sostenuto: he shapes the orchestral afterbeats with expressive weight, and his rhythmic rigor in the climactic tutti avoids a cheesy, "Hollywood" effect.

The Concerto Rhapsody - I've seen the title hyphenated elsewhere - is essentially a one-movement concerto in three sections. It opens with full-bodied yet mysterious phrases, presumably based in Armenian folk music; woodwind staccatos and the soloist's angular unaccompanied cadenza. The gentle undercurrent of instability persists through a rocking 6/8 passage. After a couple of false starts, the tempo picks up at 9:20, leading to more playful music laid out in brief, kaleidoscopically shifting sections. Finally, at 21:59, the music finally breaks into a cheery major mode, still interrupted by ominous tuttis.

Weithaas again excels, rolling through the unaccompanied figurations with ease, shaping the lyrical lines sinuously; passages in sixths are mostly dead in tune. Raiskin remains supportive, but his rhythmic control is looser: the tuttis are fuzzier, and the climax at 16:16, unfortunately, does sound Hollywoodish.

I only know of one competing coupling of these pieces, with Leonid Kogan backed by the Boston Symphony and Pierre Monteux, no less, in a Praga Digitals 2-CD set. Those performances, recorded in concert, are excellent - the orchestra part has rarely been so attentively considered - and the remastering is vivid, though I suspect the orchestra sounded more luminous than this. Weithaas and Raiskin are comparably fine, and even better recorded. If you want just the Concerto, also consider Perlman (EMI), collaborating with Mehta on a conventionally rousing, effective reading.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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