Sunday, 2 June 2013

Khachaturian's Violin Concerto

Aram Khachaturian chose a bad time to write a violin concerto in D minor. Post-1940 after the concerto was written, music coming from the USSR was derided as propaganda music to please Russian factory workers. And to write music with a key signature, and with tunes, was asking for opprobrium from the Western musical establishment. I recall in the 1960s/70s a BBC music commentator almost apologising for the music [the Khachaturian concerto] that a violinist had just played: “Of course, it's not modern music as we understand it, but the violinist played very well …. “

To this day, the musical establishment still tends to sniff at Aram Khachaturian and its members – unlike musicians or audiences – would rather some tuneless meandering by Alban Berg, Karl-Heinz Stockhausen or Arnold Schönberg were programmed instead. Or yet another Mendelssohn or Bruch. Certainly not Aram Khachaturian!

Well, being musically incorrect, I really like Khachaturian's colourful and tuneful concerto that is well written and should be one of the most popular works for violin and orchestra. The great classic recordings, in my view, were by Julian Sitkovetsky with the Romanian Radio Orchestra and Niyazi in 1954 – a wild and mesmeric performance – and Leonid Kogan with Pierre Monteux in Boston in 1958. Today I listened to two modern recordings: Julia Fischer with Yakov Kreizberg (2004) and Sergey Khachatryan with Emmanuel Krivine (2003). Both Fischer and Khachatryan are truly top violinists. Maybe Khachatryan has a slight edge in authenticity when playing music by a fellow Armenian, but he does suffer from a “correct” recording positioning between soloist and orchestra, whereas I think the soloist in this particular concerto should be allowed to stand out more, a bit like a Primas in a gypsy band. I think Khachaturian's concerto is one of the best of the twentieth century and hope that, like the violin concerto of Benjamin Britten (pretty well exactly the same date of composition) the musical establishment will permit it to be programmed – frequently.

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