SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47. KHACHATURIAN: Violin Concerto in D minor
Sergey Khachatyran, violinist; Sinfonia Varsovia/Emmanuel Krivine, cond.
NAÏVE V 4959 (F) (DDD) TT: 69:53

The Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan - no indication whether he's related to the second composer in the headnote - won the International Jean Sibelius Competition in December, 2000, when he was all of fifteen years old, but he waited until last year to make this recording at the ripe old age of eighteen. Like the rest of the flock of violinistic whiz-kids, he commands a formidable technical artillery, like that of so many other young virtuosi, encompasses a feel for dramatic gesture (as in the rubato double-stops at 13:31 of the Sibelius first movement) and a twinkling, starlike delicacy (the first-movement cadenza of the Khachaturian). The soft, running broken octaves at 5:33 of the Sibelius Adagio sound a bit nervous, but the louder ones in the Finale are fine. Khachatryan's outstanding asset, however, is a vibrant legato, which, coupled with his spot-on intonation, avoids the polar extremes of severity and cloying sweetness. In more incisive and aggressive passages, his tone goes ever so slightly out of focus (though the tuning as such remains impeccable), but he can melt on a dime into his beguiling cantabile mode.

And, unlike many of his prodigious contemporaries, Khachatryan has a distinctive musical personality with something to say. His direct, unfussy phrasing eschews imposed rhetoric, instead relying successfully for expressivity on nuances of color and dynamics. Conductor Krivine seconds him, in a true collaboration. Their Sibelius is taut rather than lush. The opening string ostinati immediately bring an anxious undercurrent. In the Adagio, the violin stoically intones its themes over the searching, duetting woodwinds. Yet, for all the grim austerity, there is sufficient arching buoyancy to suggest the score's epic sweep. A similarly forthright, no-nonsense approach to the Khachaturian, the rhythms of its folklike themes strongly marked, builds to big, powerful climaxes while avoiding cheesy "movie-music" glamour.

The opaque, sodden tutti recap in the Sibelius finale betrays the basic second-rate quality of the Sinfonia Varsovia, a Polish emigre orchestra akin to the Philharmonia Hungarica. Otherwise, Krivine draws from them a detailed, well-balanced sonority - the brass round and impactful, rather than piercing - and has a knack for bringing out low wind colors without thickening the textures. The sound is excellent, though closely enough miked to pick up both soloist and conductor's intrusive breathing in the Sibelius.

I continue to favor Heifetz's nonpareil stereo Sibelius (with Hendl on RCA 61744) and Perlman's affectionate Khachaturian (EMI, worth waiting for in a midpriced reissue). But these high-level comparisons are indicative of Khachatryan's polish and compelling musicality, and this album is an excellent choice for both concerti in modern sound.

S.F.V. (May 2004)