KHACHATURIAN Spartacus: Suite. Gayaneh: Suite. Masquerade: Suite • Yuri Simonov, cond; Royal PO • RPM 28640 (58:33)
Much vaunted, and as often critically derided, the Royal Philharmonic’s Masterworks Collection trundles ever onward with this release. Rather like the origins of the universe, the recording details of this disc seem shrouded in complex mystery. AnRead more innocent eye would interpret the two jewel case dates as an original recording date of 2007, and a reissue date of 2011—or at least that’s how my eye interprets it. But this is a pre-millennial project, recorded during the 1990s and originally out on Collins Classics. It was relatively soon taken up by Regis (RC 1041) and now reappears in the “Audiophile Collection.”
These machinations are interesting, but the music, and its performance, more so. Yuri Simonov is an individualist, unafraid of a fair degree of tempo extremes, but often as not alighting on one that seems just right. The “highlights” selections from Gayaneh and Spartacus, augmented by three movements from Masquerade, allow him to work with the ripest material. He tends, in the main, toward slower, more luxuriant tempi. His “Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia” is, by some way, slower than the composer in his 1962 recording in Vienna, and Alexander Gauk in his Bolshoi traversal in 1957, recorded when the work was still relatively hot off the press. He’s even slower in the panel celebrating the “Dance of the Maidens” and “Victory of Spartacus,” where his succulent rooting out of every musical crevice might well be thought too much of a good thing. I doubt it could easily be danced at this tempo, though it does suggest the Ravelian influence. But just when one complacently thinks Simonov too laid- back, he responds with a tautly pointed and drivingly exultant “Scene and Dance with Crotalums.”
Gayaneh is perhaps more conventionally realized but equally characterful. He is pawkily insistent in the “Dance of the Rose Maidens,” much more so than Kirill Karabits in his new recording on Onyx, but less so than Tjeknavorian in his older version on RCA. His Hopak (here spelled Gopak) is good, though perhaps could be more incisive, while his “Sabre Dance” is driven, powerful, and tinged with manic drama. After which the three pieces from Masquerade offer warmly textured pleasures.
Simonov is helped by the vivid recording. There’s a role for the RPO’s concertmaster in the Nocturne from Masquerade and he is duly accorded up-front “Heifetz West Coast” seniority for his solo. The wind solos are strikingly present in Spartacus, the Adagio scene in particular. The percussion really have their heads in the “Crotalums” episode, but these are merely a few examples of a sound spectrum that offers blunt, even heroic melodrama. It is indeed something of a polar opposite to the new Karabits with its more diffuse spread. For music such as this, my own enthusiasm is for Simonov’s type of spectacular sound, and, where their selections match, strongly for Simonov’s performances, too, though not in preference to Khachaturian’s and Gauk’s selections in their own recordings of Spartacus.
Listen to all your favorite classical music for only $20/month.
Sign up for your monthly subscription service and get unlimited access to the most
comprehensive digital catalog of classical music in the world - new releases.
bestsellers, advanced releases and more.