KHACHATURIAN: Concerto-Rhapsody in B-flat Minor for Violin and Orchestra; Violin Concerto in D Minor – Nicolas Koeckert, violin/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Jose Serebrier – Naxos 8.570988, 64:05 ****:
Recorded at the Colosseum, Town Hall, Watford, England 10-11 April 2008, these two virtuoso display pieces for violin and orchestra embrace the idiosyncratic Armenian voice of Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978). The Concerto-Rhapsody in B-flat Minor dates from the period in the 1960s that produced a trio of such works–for cello, piano, and violin–the last dedicated to Leonid Kogan, who premiered the work 7 October 1962. The violin part features any number of scale-figures, often modal in nature, over a harp and plucked-string and woodwind accompaniment. The musical episodes more than not exploit the folk-balletic impulse, and more than one passing reference implies Gaynah or Spartacus. The music seems to divide itself into sections that alternate and repeat, the more melodic of the sequences floating in a colorful, gypsy style that rarely offends the ear. Rather, Khachaturian takes Wagner’s concept of seamless melody one step further, having forged a tapestry of nocturnal sounds that, after some thirteen minutes, breaks off in a scherzo with percussion and brass, enlarged shades of Stravinsky’s violin writing for L’Histoire du Soldat or the second movement from Prokofiev’s D Major Concerto. The last pages might pay tribute to the Bartok Second Concerto.
The more familiar Violin Concerto in D Minor (1940), cast for legendary David Oistrakh, has solo Koeckert (b. 1979) frolicking in vivacious, oriental, languorous colors in the outer movements, singing a love song in the Andante sostenuto. Huge pedal points and vigorous rhythms, along with etched timbres from horns, woodwinds, strings, and tympani make the Concerto a naturally fascinating study in royal colors. Serebrier’s harpist exerts much effort to provide a damask background for the violin’s flights of fancy, a step away from Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. In the quieter passages, Serebrier’s excellent capacity for subito provides a chamber music transparency to the proceedings. Typical of Serebrier’s color-vision, that innate gift augmented by studies with Stokowski, the second movement overflows with erotic motion, any number of veiled suggestions arising from the composer’s low woodwinds. The last movement, the ultimate Khachaturian whirling dervish, flutters, breezes, and sizzles by in due acrobatic virtuosity – a lucid reading full of musical abandon. For all of Koeckert’s fine and blistering wizardry, his silken and elegant tone, the liner notes provide no clue as to the instrument he plays – but should it turn out to be a Guarnerius, Amati, or Stradivarius, it would seem fitting given the stellar quality of his sound. –Gary Lemco