Classical Reissue Reviews

KHACHATURIAN: Composer – Conductor – Pianist = Violin Con.; Cello Con.; Masquerade & Gayane suites; Piano Con. (in stereo) – Supraphon Archive (2 CDs)

The great Armenian-Soviet colorist receives a cross-section of his manifold efforts as composer, pianist, conductor and even singer!

Published on August 25, 2012

KHACHATURIAN: Composer – Conductor – Pianist = Violin Con.; Cello Con.; Masquerade & Gayane suites; Piano Con. (in stereo) – Supraphon Archive (2 CDs)

KHACHATURIAN: Composer – Conductor – Pianist = Violin Concerto in D Minor; Cello Concerto in E Minor; Funeral Ode in Memory of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin; Masquerade Suite; Gayane Ballet Suite; Piano Concerto in D-flat Major, Op. 38; Sabre Dance; “Guran Yerevan”; Zdravitsa” – Leonid Kogan, violin/ Sviatoslav Knushevitsky, cello/ Antonin Jemelik, piano (Concerto)/ USSR State Radio and Television Sym. Orch./ Aram Khachaturian, conductor, piano and singer/  USSR State Sym. Orch./ Alexander Gauk (Cello Concerto)/ Karlovy Vary Sym. Orch. and Czech Philharmonic/Alois Klima (Piano Concerto) – Supraphon Archiv SU 4100-2 (2 CDs, all mono save Piano Concerto in stereo), 79:45; 77:10 [Distr. by Qualiton] ***½:

Composer and conductor Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) consistently advocated the derivation of great music from folk roots, the source of a youthful spirit of renewal, passionate, temperamental, impulsive, and rife with affective extremes. The vivid melodies and pungent harmonies of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia ingrained themselves in his consciousness, aided in his expression by studies with Gnessin, Myaskovsky, and Vasilenko. Supraphon assembles a series of performances from the Czech capital, Prague, 1950-1960, that demonstrate the colorful range of Khachaturian’s explosive temperament and his natural vitality.

The 1940 Violin Concerto (15 May 1959) from the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House, Prague features the patrician art of Leonid Kogan’s working with Khachaturian, a performance perhaps even more lean and sinewy than the commercial recording the composer made with another stellar virtuoso, David Oistrakh. Critic Vaclav Felix remarked that a “rare experience was brought to us by Leonid Kogan with his art of the violin. . .the live experience of Kogan’s assured, cultivated and ardent expression exceeded our highest expectations.”  The E Minor Cello Concerto of 1946 features the work’s dedicatee Sviatoslav Knushevitsky (1907-1963) who gave the world premier and later joined a trio comprised of David Oistrakh and Lev Oborin. The music incorporates Caucasian influences, the Dies Irae, and exotic harmonies, and perhaps wartime memories, which led to negative criticism by the Soviet repressive authorities. Conductor Alexander Gauk scores his own points in this delicious, tempestuous score, rife with daring, irreverent harmonies, anguished lyricism, and clashing sonorities. Disc One concludes with Khachaturian’s 1948 Funeral Ode in Memory of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, based on themes the composer had scored for a documentary film on the revolutionary leader. “I recalled streams of people locked in grief on those cold winter days of 1924; I had to try to express those feelings in music.” The 22 September 1955 performance by the Prague Radio Symphony under the composer in Dvorak Hall at the Rudofinum, Prague conveys through orchestral means, almost Wagnerian, a tangible valediction of stirring power.

From the Rukoska Studio, Prague, 27 April 1950 Khachaturian opens Disc Two with his keyboard rendition of the Sabre Dance, so Oscar Levant, move over! Khachaturian accompanies himself as he sings two songs, “Springtime in Lovely Yerevan” and “Pisen Zdravice.” Delightful, the swaying, guttural inflections of the Caucasian or Tatar rhythms prove absolutely infectious. Having caught what Khachaturian called “the conductor’s bug,” he leads (rec. 22 September 1955) a beguiling five-movement suite from his 1944 Masquerade incidental music for Lermontov’s play. The 1942 Gayane Suite derives from a 15 September 1955 live concert performance with the Karlovy Vary Orchestra from Western Bohemia. The audience erupts after the lovely “Lullaby” and from then on. No less seductive, “Aishe’s Dance,” with its saxophone and high flute colors, mesmerizes our senses. The virtuosic “Gopak” could be taken for an Israeli hora in stomping gypsy fashion. The absolutely erotic “Lezginka” never fails to stir up an Arabian or Bedouin fantasy of its own, complete with veils and Yvonne de Carlo.

For the 1936 Piano Concerto, otherwise championed by Russian Lev Oborin and American William Kapell, respectively, the soloist in this 9 November 1960 performance is the brilliant but tragically short-lived Czech virtuoso Antonin Jemelik (1931-1962), whom critic Vaclav Holzknecht proclaimed “one of the greatest piano talents of the young generation. Khachaturian’s Concerto gave him an opportunity to show off his wild élan and the healthy technique with which he fascinated the audience.” Jemelik collaborates with conductor Klima in the Dvorak Hall to deliver a passionate driven, unbuttoned rendition of this febrile piece, whose lovely second movement the composer called “a modified version of an oriental urban song, very popular in its time, which I had heard in Tbilisi and which any inhabitant of the Transcaucasus knows very well.” Jemelik makes us want to know it even better.

[Since this is an audiophile publication, and since I also auditioned this disc, I have to point out that all of the mono tracks on this set are remastered with harsh and shrill sonics—akin to the worst of the Soviet-era recordings…Ed.]

—Gary Lemco

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