KHACHATURIAN: Violin Concerto; Masquerade Suite – Ara Malikian, violin/ Extremadura Symphony Orchestra/ Jesus Amigo, conductor – Non Profit Music Multichannel SACD (www.nonprofitmusic.org), 54:46 *****:
The Khachaturian Concerto has known some popularity, though at around 30 available recordings it is far from being the most noteworthy. Nevertheless it is a repertory item, and so must be taken at least semi-seriously. I have never really taken to it at all, finding the Georgian-born (he never set foot in Armenia though his father was of that origin) composer’s lack of intricate developmental ability and penchant for purely schlock melodic invention something that seems rather tawdry to me. I know this sparks debate—I can feel the opposition arming themselves as I write this. But though he did have the respect of artists like Shostakovich and Oistrakh (to whom this concerto is dedicated), and was persecuted along with them, the so-called “directness” of the appeal of his music has seemed to me rather a cover for vapidity.
I will readily admit to the appeal of his most popular works like Spartacus and Gaynah, but the other works have done little for me, and I am probably beyond conversion at this point. Yet I must admit that this new recording, featuring some of the best SACD sound I have heard—fully linking all five speakers—by the firebrand Lebanese/Armenian violinist Ara Malikian — does at least peak my interest somewhat. Malikian makes no apology for Khachaturian, and seems to take the approach that a good defense against critical malcontents like me is a stormy “shock and awe” offense. He not only refuses to cover up the obvious weaknesses in Khachaturian’s score, but even goes out of his way to emphasize them! This approach works very well, as I find myself enthralled, if not for the music itself, then for the absolute commitment and excitement of the playing. Might I come to love this work after all…nah! But who knows?
The Masquerade Suite dates back to 1939, but the actual performance of the large orchestral suite is only from 1994. It’s a hybrid of some of the composer’s most famous music, not really original, yet no less entertaining for that. You will recognize the pieces, and if you like it you are in for a little slice of heaven. Me, I’ll stand outside the gates but I certainly respect the effort. The Extremadura Symphony plays with all of the enthusiasm and wonderment they can muster, which is quite a lot. Very much recommended, especially to fans of the composer.
— Steven Ritter