Thursday 27 January 2022

KHACHATURIAN Piano Music on Grand Piano / Review


Recitatives & Fugues / Children’s Albums

Charlene Farrugia, Piano

Grand Piano GP834 / TT: 67’40”


The Armenian Soviet era composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) is best remembered for his ballets Spartacus and Gayaneh, dance movements from which have now become part of popular culture. His concertos for violin and piano are still heard in concert halls and recordings. However, his piano music, with the sole exception of the Toccata – a favourite of teenaged piano students and virtuoso wannabes – is far less well-known, and may be even described as neglected. This album is a wholly commendable attempt to redress that injustice.


Khachaturian’s 7 Recitatives and Fugues were composed in 1928-29 and revised in 1966-70, finally published in 1974. These are in the hallowed tradition of contrapuntal exercises, with recitatives taking the place of preludes. A vocal element is suggested and some sound as if inspired by folk music, as much of the Armenian’s music is. The fugues are well-crafted, and one imagines them to be less ambitious country cousins of Shostakovich’s much celebrated Preludes and Fugues Op.87. Do note that Khachaturian predate Shostakovich by over 20 years, the latter’s being conceived in the 1950s.  


The Children’s Albums come in two parts, Book I (Pictures of Childhood, 1947) and Book 2 (Sounds of Childhood, 1964-65), each book comprising ten short pieces inspired by childhood scenes and memories. These vignettes are all tonal, melodic but not necessarily child’s play. Some will be readily recognised as music by Khachaturian if one is familiar with the style of his ballet music. For example, No.8 from Book I, entitled Invention: Adagio, is that same hauntingly bleak Adagio from Gayane, famously exploited in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like his Soviet colleagues Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Khachaturian could not resist recycling his music, as the fugues which close both books come from the Recitatives and Fugues. Fugue II concludes Book I, while Fugue V is the last piece of Book II.


Maltese pianist Charlene Farrugia plays with crispness of articulation and no little lyricism, and is a most persuasive advocate for this unforbidding and easy to like music. My thanks go to Kenneth Hamilton for introducing me to this unusual yet interesting album.


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