ARAM KHACHATURIAN: Highlights from ‘Gayane’, Highlights from ‘Spartacus’, Highlights from ‘Masquerade’– Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Yuri Simonov – Royal Philharmonic Masterworks audiophile collection RPM28640 (Distr. by Allegro), 58:33 ****:
I have always loved the music of Aram Khachaturian. My first exposure, which is perhaps true for many people in my generation, is the haunting, melancholy adagio from the ballet, “Gayane”, as it was used by Stanley Kubrick in his stark, somewhat unsettling sci-fi masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I also was lucky enough to hear Khachaturian’s exotic Piano Concerto live once with its spooky Armenian-inflected musical saw middle section.
This collection succeeds at paying homage to the composer’s best known and most used scores; his ballet music. Each of Khachaturian’s ballet scores reflects his love of native Armenian folk melody and sense of national pride. In each of these ballets, there is also a storyline emphasizing the heroic actions of an individual. It was his score to “Spartacus”, in fact, and its story of the slave who revolted against the government (an empire..) that endeared Khachaturian to the post-czarist revolutionaries.
The music is tonal, sweeping, often exciting or beautiful and, yes, full of those tunes and moments where even a listener who does not know the name of Khachaturian has to admit recognition. For example, the suite from “Gayane” opens with the well known and much parodied “Saber Dance”. (This suite does not include the ‘adagio’ as in “2001” however – somewhat unfortunate.) “Spartacus” includes both the “Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia”, from a popular BBC television show as well as the closing bacchanale, often heard in television and films anytime something somewhat chaotic is occurring. Khachaturian’s score to “Masquerade” is, interestingly, one of his most often played and recorded works. It has found its way into the mainstream symphonic repertory for its beautiful melodies, such as the “Nocturne” and the swirling dervish inspired waltz with its slight edginess – another of those pieces that many have heard but cannot really place in context.
The performances on this disc are first rate, as is the production. The Royal Philharmonic has always been a high quality orchestra that often does not get as much attention as, say, London or the City of Birmingham. Conductor Yuri Simonov clearly has a passion for this music and a deep familiarity with the culture of its origin. Tempos are good, valid and appropriate but not exaggerated (the “Saber Dance” is one that frequently is played all too cartoonish, but not here) The disc has a lively presence and wide dynamic but is clear, crisp and realistic throughout. I am motivated to find more recordings in this collection
I do strongly recommend this for anyone who would like to have a sort of Khachaturian “best of” disc of high quality and certainly for anyone who likes some neo-romantic Russian music played very well in which you can also say that you now know who wrote these great tunes! [I’m not able to understand the ‘audiophile’ label emblazoned on this series of RPO CDs. They’re standard 44.1K CDs without a hi-res format or even something (still 44.1K) like xrcd, K2 HD, gold CD, HQCD, or Blu-spec CD…Ed.]
— Daniel Coombs