Jesús Amigo / Extremadura Symphony Orchestra / Ara Malikian

Khachaturian: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; Masquerade Suite

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The star of Aram Khachaturian, whose incorporation of ethnic music into a concert language was no less thorough than Bartók's, although more conservative, seems to be on the way up. The fact that he never actually set foot in Armenia is unfairly held against him; he was well acquainted with the music of that former Soviet republic, his father's homeland. Violinist Ara Malikian, likewise an Armenian born elsewhere (in Lebanon), makes a good partner for Khachaturian in this entertaining audiophile release from Spain's Non Profit Music label. The trick with the composer's Violin Concerto, premiered in 1940 by David Oistrakh, is to combine mastery of its serious technical difficulties (goosed by Oistrakh in cooperation with the composer) with rhythmic vitality and festive flair. This Malikian accomplishes very nicely, digging into rather than minimizing the concerto's moments of sentiment. He's aided by superior hybrid-SACD production, executed in a concert hall called El Palacio de Congresos de Badajoz Manuel Rojas in Spain's Extremadura region. The strings of the Extremadura Symphony Orchestra have a very attractive, slightly buzzy sheen, and you get to hear them up close. The orchestra and conductor Jesús Amigo can't claim any ethnic kinship with the composer but turn in a lively account of his Masquerade Suite, consisting of incidental music for a play by Lermontov. The opening Waltz offers one of Khachaturian's endlessly catchy tunes. The sumptuous hardbound booklet, with notes in Spanish and shaky English, may help the label live up to its name but does introduce the works and performers concisely. Recommended, especially for audiophile buyers.

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