In the creepily sinuous Andante con anima second movement of Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto, a distinctly eerie sound – like something from a horror movie – emerges from the back of the orchestra.
While this appearance of the musical saw (or, alternatively, the flexatone) gives the Armenian composer’s 1936 work a uniqueness within the concerto repertoire, there is a lot more to his Concerto than just that.
The opening movement is a riot of oriental colour and chromaticism, while the Allegro brillante finale hurls the soloist, orchestra and listeners towards a thrilling finish.
Is there a more romantic concerto? Okay, the work is now imbued with the heady emotion of David Lean’s classic film Brief Encounter (1945) and it’s easy to see why it was chosen as the soundtrack.
It’s a musical rollercoaster of contemplation and elation–which it ably added to what might have otherwise been a bit of a staid drama.
Written while Rachmaninov was coming through a deep depression, the music does appear to render, in vivid hues, the complexities of human emotion – from the darkness of self-doubt to the intoxicating release that comes when the light is finally allowed in.
A whip crack. Jazz-infused melodies. A soundworld taking inspiration from Basque and Spanish music. What’s not to enjoy? Ravel’s concerto manages to achieve real emotional depth while also giving us the perfect party piece.
After the first movement, which is full of fire and fun, the second movement takes a step back and explores a much more serene landscape.
The piece ends with a final movement travelling through a series of unexpected key signatures to revisit the initial feisty atmosphere. It’s got everything you could wish for in a piano concerto.