This fascinating mid-price (UK) disc offers a feast of playing by Leonid
Kogan. Unlike David Oistrakh who recorded this concerto at least four times,
Kogan did not have such a high profile in the West. His various commercial
recordings are a comparatively small resource though well-respected and loved.
I recall with great affection his Philips recording of Saint-Saens
Havanaise: liquid melody flowing like quicksilver and a strong exoticism.
There is also a very strong recording (transferred to LP?) of the Tchaikovsky
concerto with Silvestri conducting the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra.
Both the Violin Concerto and Khachaturyan have been much vilified for easy
accessibility and for a slightly brazen quality. These are matters of taste
and taste is often swept along by fashion. The Concerto comes from 1939 when
the 37 year old composer was riding high on the success of his flexatone-featured
piano concerto (1936) and the music for Masquerade. This (presumably)
mono recording dates from 25 June 1951 when the composer was 48 and Kogan
27 and is part of the vast cache of USSR radio broadcast tapes on which
Revelation can draw. The recording is clear but balanced succulently close
to Kogan who seems to relish every moment with throaty tone, flying sparks
and a joyous relaxation into the composers richly (but always pellucid)
orchestral textures. There is a certain boxiness to the recording but this
is not unpleasant. The concerto won Khachaturyan the Stalin Prize (his Song
of Stalin dates from two years previously) and rapidly found fame and multiple
performances across the world. The first movement, even during the extended
cadenza, has a consistently motoric energy. Those who know this Armenian
composer through the Spartacus ballet score and the Onedin Line (this
will mean something to British readers) theme will hear strange pre-echoes
of this throughout the first movement.
The second movement, marked andante sostenuto, is largely introspective,
incongruously mixing elements of a rocking lullaby with a far from innocent
serenading which looks towards Balakirevs Tamar and First Symphony.
There are a number of blaring explosive passages which have a Steiner or
Rózsa-like shabby grandeur. The last movement opens in raucous activity
accentuated by the up-close rich recording. The violin melody soon dances
and glitters away - strong on a sort of hiccuping charm. As ever with
Khachaturyan melody is never far away; when tunes, usually of an eastern
exotic caste intrude you are never surprised. The Concerto ends in what I
have to concede is a series of rather hammy stuttering hammer blows.
Let me suggest that this concerto is grouped with the Korngold and even the
Walton. The latter dates from the same year. The Bax concerto (1937) which
bids in the same direction was written for Heifetz. The Barber concerto (1940)
is another parallel. They are all sumptuously romantic. They also have an
exotic strange Hollywood bloom to them although they established the mood
long before California tapped into it.
The Concerto-Rhapsody is in a (more open) recording made on 3 November 1962
and presumably is in stereo though I find it difficult to tell. It is one
of three single-movement concerto-rhapsodies - one each for violin (1960),
cello (1965) and piano (1955). Kogan here has feverish excitement to tackle
and pyrotechnics. As the title suggests the work is more a fantasy than anything
else: full of mood-shifts and some echoes of early works. It is a disappointment
that he does not draw on the guileless distinctive tunefulness of the 1930s
(try the Symphony No. 1 in the ASV Tjeknavorian CD) but things have moved
on and the flame does burn brightly at about 15:00. There are many imaginative
touches here. This is a work worth hearing but be prepared to give it several
listens before it begins to hold you. This is a concert performance though
the presence of an audience is betrayed once by a cough and by a burst of
applause at the close.
Recommended for violin fanciers and for the growing ranks of Khachaturyan
collectors. Kogan is a very fine violinist. He died at the age of 58 on a
train during a concert tour of the USSR. I for one hope that there are more
examples of Kogans artistry to come from the radio archives. A disc
coupling the three concerto-rhapsodies would also be of interest.