Katchy Khatchaturian

Copyright © by Fred Flaxman, 1997.

Looking for a great gift for a classical music lover? Have you thought about hiring the London Symphony Orchestra, or perhaps the Vienna State Opera musicians, to play a command performance of the exciting, happy, rhythmic, melodious works of Aram Khachaturian?

What? You say you can't afford to?

Stop pulling my leg!

You can buy the LSO, conducted by Anatol Fistoulari, no less, for next to nothing, and they'll play Khachaturian's 11-movement "Gayne Ballet Suite" for you over and over, as many times as you want to hear it. They'll start with the "Sabre Dance" -- one of the most famous classical compositions of this century -- and end, 46 minutes and 53 seconds later, with "Fire"! In between, they'll ignite your every emotion! All this for the price of a budget compact disc: a great-sounding 35mm "Ultra Analog" reissue from Everest (EVC 9020).

About the only thing wrong with this CD is its short length. If you want more for your money, even from a budget CD, you could do worse than buying the Vienna State Opera Orchestra with Vladimir Golschmann conducting. They give an equally spirited performance of the "Gayne Ballet Suite" on a Vanguard Everyman reissue (OVC 5010) which runs for more than an hour. And the CD includes Dmitri Kabalevsky's thoroughly delightful "The Comedians," Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov's tuneful "Caucasian Sketches," and Reinhold Gliere's rollicking "Russian Sailors' Dance" as well as the "Gayne."

The Golschmann/VSOO CD also begins with the "Sabre Dance," but it doesn't end with "Fire," and it's missing three other pieces as well. Oh well, nothing in life is perfect.

I also own a third copy of the "Gayne Ballet Suite," although it is spelled "Gayaneh" in this all-digital recording with Yuri Temirkanov conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (EMI CDC 7 47348 2). This CD has two more pieces than the Golschmann performance; two less than the Fistoulari. Its big plus is that it is paired with excerpts from Khachaturian's "Spartacus" ballet, surely one of the most hauntingly romantic, melodious scores of the 20th Century. Long-time fans of public television may recognize part of this ballet music from its use as the theme for the British series "The Onedin Line" many years ago.

Khachaturian (1903-1978) wrote two other compositions which I think belong in every classical lover's CD collection -- the "Masquerade Ballet Suite" and the "Violin Concerto" -- and another which almost makes my "must" list: the "Piano Concerto."

If you would like to mail a light-weight, light-hearted gift which includes almost all of the best of Khachaturian on one CD, then buy EMI Classic's Philharmonia Orchestra performances (CDC 55035). The composer himself conducts, which makes this a very special gift, even an historic one. The CD includes the "Gayane" (as it spells it) Suites 1 and 2, the "Violin Concerto" (with David Oistrakh) and "Masquerade." You miss only "Spartacus."

Or you can get "Spartacus" paired with "Masquerade" and "Gayane" with the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Loris Tjeknavorian (can't beat that combo for ethnic authenticity!) on an all-digital ASV release (ASV 773). You miss only the "Violin Concerto." Life, as I said...

Of course Neeme Jarvi and the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who seem determined to record every piece of music that has ever been written, have already made a CD of "Masquerade" (Chandos CHAN 8542). It is paired with "Gayane" and the "Piano Concerto." I have not heard this recording, so I can't comment on it. But I own the Academy of Sound and Vision recording of the "Piano Concerto" (ASV CD DCA 589) and highly recommend its performance by the Argentine pianist Alberto Portugheis and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Loris Tjeknavorian. This CD is filled out with Portugheis' performances of two Khachaturian piano pieces: "Sonatina in C" (a pleasant piece dating from 1958-59 which concludes with a very Khachaturianesque third movement) and Toccata (a less characteristic 1932 work written while the composer was still a student of Miaskovsky at the Moscow Conservatoire).

As for Khachie's tuneful but more serious "Violin Concerto," I can't imagine a better, more exciting performance than that provided by Itzhak Perlman with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta (EMI CDC 7 47087 2). The sound on this all-digital CD is also superb. It is filled out with Tchaikovsky's lyrical "Meditation," as arranged for orchestra by Glazunov.

Khachaturian's best music is unique. You can't possibly confuse him with any other composer. It is based in the folk music of a unique corner of the world and is continuously full of life, exciting rhythms and beautiful melodies. It is fully tonal and immediately accessible, yet it is entirely 20th Century. Khachie wrote music to please the public, not academic exercises to capture the admiration of university colleagues. And I think his scores will continue to please music lovers for centuries to come.

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