KHACHATURIAN:  Piano Concerto (Alicia de Larrocha);  Violin Concerto (Ruggiero Ricci); London Philharmonic Orch/Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos/Anatole Fistoulari, cond. Masquerade Suite. London Symphony Orch/Stanley Black, cond.  Symphony No. 2 (Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Aram Khachaturian, cond.
LONDON  448 252 (2 CDs) (B/M) (ADD)  TT:  145:58 

These two well-filled CDs contain some of Aram Khachaturian's  best-known works in earlier recordings drawn from Decca/London archives. Alicia de Larrocha's 1972 performance of the Piano Concerto is not well-suited to the work's bravura. As with her ill-advised recording of Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto, she is too delicately refined in  music that demands all-stops-out virtuosity.  De Burgos' accompaniment is outstanding, and use of the flexotone in the second movement provides a touch of the unusual.  Ruggiero Ricci's 1956 performance of the Violin Concerto is far more successful -- he has the technique to negotiate the countless treacherous difficulties of the score -- and the accompaniment by the LPO under Anatole Fistoulari (who conducted the London premiere in) is superb.  The early stereo (1956) is a model of natural perspectives.

Stanley Black leads the LSO in a spirited performance of a five-movement suite of music for the play Masquerade.  The featured work in the set is Symphony No. 2 composed in the early '40s.  Subtitled "The Bell," it is a 52-minute four-movement work richly orchestrated but with little to say.  There are occasional unmistakable glimpses of the Khachaturian style, some outbursts of bells, and a third movement Andante that is an impressive elegy including the Dies irae chant.  With the composer conducting the Vienna Philharmonic we are well provided with sumptuous orchestral textures, but the work goes on far too long.  Khachaturian is at his best in the ballets Gayaneh and Spartacus.

Listening to  this music I was reminded of a comment by Claudia Cassidy, formidable music critic of the Chicago Tribune  who unfortunately dominated and to some extent directed musical life in that city for many years.  Speaking about a composer who sounded like Khachaturian, she said, "He who steals Khachaturian steals trash."  A bit of an overstatement, but not too far from the mark.

R.E.B.