Notes and Editorial Reviews
I had a superb time with this and so will any Khachaturian admirer.
Supraphon’s ‘Archiv’ line has come up with a particularly spicy twofer here. It documents Khachaturian as composer - yes, pretty obviously - but also conductor and pianist. It also captures him singing. What more could the dedicated admirer possibly want? Well, they might want novelty and variety, and rare live performances. They might add that a top-line soloist and a brilliant but rather unknown executant wouldn’t be bad either. Let’s see if this fits the bill.
There are the three big concertos. The Violin Concerto is played by Leonid Kogan who, with David Oistrakh, pretty much owned the work in those days. His studio recording in Boston with the unlikely but inspired collaboration of Pierre Monteux has just been reissued on Guild, but other performances of Kogan’s sovereign way with the work - not least with the composer himself in Moscow - have survived. Here we hear Kogan and Khachaturian live with the USSR State Radio and TV orchestra in the Smetana Hall during the Prague Spring Festival of 1959. And what a performance it is: dashing, lithe, exciting, brilliant, and technically superb. The much earlier preserved Moscow performance cedes a great deal to this one in terms of quicksilver refinement and sheer adrenalin. With the very distinctive wide vibrato of the Russian brass blare and, in the slow movement the rather ‘watery’ wind colours, this is a highly communicative reading, essential for lovers of work, performer and/or composer.
There’s not so much to write regarding the Cello Concerto. This isn’t, as I’d hoped, Sviatoslav Knushevitzky live in Prague. It’s the same commercial recording that’s out in a Brilliant box devoted to the cellist . The date is 1 October 1946, though Supraphon’s documentation is silent about this. It’s a torrid sounding studio recording in the rather basic Russian manner of the time. Still, it preserves the cellist’s tone in all its appreciable breadth and colour. Note, too, the clarinet’s folkloric piping, and the excellently realised musing cadenza for the solo cello. Knushevitzky doesn’t stint on that intensely melancholy paragraph from around 3:00 in the finale. It was the work’s first recording and it’s still one of the best, interpretatively speaking.
Finally there’s the Piano Concerto (recorded in 1960), which is in the hands of the short-lived Czech pianist Antonín Jemelík, who died at the age of 31 two years after making the recording. The conductor for this is Alois Klíma, and the orchestra the Czech Philharmonic. The playing is characterised by a barnstorming element that matches florid virtuosity, bravura projection and intense heroism. Not everything quite comes off, but most things come off - and more besides. The poetic soliloquy in the first movement certainly does come across well, for instance, just one incident amongst many. Jemelík’s ability to recreate, in the studio, the drama of a live performance is certainly worthy of note.
We also hear the suite from the incidental music to
Masquerade with the Prague Radio Symphony under the composer (studio 1955) which is as exciting and droll as it is idiosyncratically voiced - terrific clarinet and flute principals. Khachaturian liked the orchestra, and no wonder. The excerpts from the 1942 ballet suites for
Gayane were taped with the Karlovy Vary Symphony in that town in September 1955. It’s not quite in the Prague Radio orchestra’s league, technically, but this live concert performance captures a riot of exotica and fun. Listen out for a brief touch of overload. Finally, we have the man himself at the piano. He rattles through the
Sabre Dance and then plays the piano and sings two very brief songs; all very approximate vocally, but full of verve. This trio of performances was taped in Prague in April 1950 and apart from the non-Czech Cello Concerto recording, is the earliest material here.
I suspect that, apart from that Cello Concerto recording, very little of this will be familiar. I had a superb time with it, and so, I’m sure, will any Khachaturian admirer.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International