Aram Khachaturian / Evgeny Svetlanov

Khachaturian: Spartacus; Gayaneh (Highlights); Glazunov: Autumn (The Seasons)

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Composer Aram Khachaturian only took to conducting in 1950, and his activities in that realm were mostly pursued while on tour; within the Soviet Union there were already plenty of conductors capable of performing his music, some even better than Khachaturian himself. Unlike Stravinsky, whose conducting was so fraught with bad habits he was often difficult to follow, or Darius Milhaud who sometimes maintained a rather diffident air about conducting, Khachaturian loved to conduct and threw himself into the job with gusto. This EMI Classics for Pleasure disc, Khachaturian: Spartacus; Gayeneh, reproduces Khachaturian's conducting of the London Symphony Orchestra in what is likely the last studio recordings he made from February 1977, just 15 months before his death. Spartacus and Gayeneh, of course, are Khachaturian's two best-known scores, and this was at least his second studio recording of Gayeneh, having made one with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the early '50s. Although identified as "ballet highlights," these appear to be movements taken from the various orchestral suites drawn from Spartacus and Gayeneh cobbled together in a unique order for purposes of recording. Khachaturian's conducting is big boned, exuberant, and energetic, and at times it seems like the London Symphony is having a little difficulty keeping up with him, though these performances exhibit a wonderful spontaneity and lack of pretension even as they may be little short on subtlety.

In order to add a little value and militate against short time, Classics for Pleasure adds a recording of Evgeny Svetlanov leading the Philharmonia Orchestra in "Autumn" from Alexander Glazunov's ballet The Seasons. The Glazunov movement works well paired with Khachaturian's music, and Svetlanov brings out a riot of orchestral color of the kind that Khachaturian does not seek to emulate, as good as his interpretations of his own music happen to be based solely on rhythmic drive and energy level. Recordings of Khachaturian's two big ballets, particularly in the form of orchestral suites, are legion, and with a little effort it shouldn't be too difficult to turn up alternatives that are as good, if not a bit better, than Khachaturian's own recordings offered here. Nonetheless, if your desire is to hear Khachaturian conducting his own works -- and he was, after all, highly successful as a touring conductor -- then this is about as good as it gets.

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