The Naxos label rolls on with its Russian-originated series of recordings of music by Aram Khachaturian, featuring a variety of orchestras and solo performers. With this album by the little-known but entirely able Moscow City Symphony Orchestra and cellist Dmitry Yablonsky, who returned to Russia after emigrating to the U.S. in the 1970s, they've come up with a real winner. The big news is the Cello Concerto in E minor, composed in 1946 and never a terribly popular piece despite the relative sparsity of concerto repertoire for the instrument. Annotator Richard Whitehouse blames the concerto's eclipse on its rather grim mood, which he attributes to the wartime mode of thinking in which Khachaturian remained. The first movement, indeed, uses the strings and winds in the orchestral exposition to produce a unique kind of nervous shimmer. But the finale is a rousing essay in Khachaturian's Armenian idiom, and the concerto balances cello and orchestra in various interesting ways and is full of the composer's characteristic orchestral touches. More likely is that the work dated from just before Khachaturian's denunciation by Stalinist culture czar Andrei Zhdanov (who was so far gone in the grips of alcoholism at the time that direct orders from Stalin himself to drink only fruit juice had no effect); the result was that the Soviets were touchy about the piece for some years, and it had no exposure in the west. It is not too much to suppose that this recording, which never loses the thread of the complex opening movement, might carve out a renewed place for the work in the concerto repertory. The Concerto-Rhapsody for cello and orchestra of 1963, originally premiered by Mstislav Rostropovich, though more popular, does not quite sustain the listener's interest over its 25 minutes. But the studio recording at the venerable offices of Russian State Radio and Television is clear and unfussy. A nice find for cellists and lovers of Russian orchestral music. Whitehouse's informative notes are in English only.
Khachaturian: Cello Concerto; Concerto-Rhapsody Review
by James Manheim