Khachaturian; Prokofiev

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Khachaturian; Prokofiev
LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Khachaturian: Piano Concerto; Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3
PERFORMER: Nareh Arghamanyan (piano); Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Alain Altinoglu
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 510 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Nareh Arghamanyan is not the first Armenian to offer a more thoughtful approach to Khachaturian’s music than the usual fireworks display. The result, though, is all the more striking in this, the first and fieriest of his concertos. The opening maestoso direction is given its due, and there’s time to appreciate the rich abundance of Khachaturian’s thematic material in that first movement, with Arghamanyan’s playing matched by polished and responsive playing by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra.

That said, although virtuosic passages are played with drive and immaculate technique, it all feels a touch over-refined – too artful for this tribute to Caucasian street music, let alone the excitement Khachaturian surely intended in this Liszt-style showpiece. I would also have welcomed more razzmatazz in the finale’s outer sections, performed here with the kind of humourless earnestness once associated (mistakenly) with Shostakovich. Still, Arghamanyan’s reflective approach pays off in her rapt performance of the slow movement: Khachaturian’s detailed and evocative orchestration blossoms in the vivid SACD sound, as does the expressive beauty of his spicily harmonised melodies (though the musical saw used here hardly improves on the score’s specified flexatone).

There are already many recommendable recordings of Prokofiev’s most popular piano concerto, but Arghamanyan’s characterful yet non-idiosyncratic reading may be enthusiastically endorsed. She captures that protean work’s playful classicism and its mournful ruminative side, while compellingly demonstrating its masterly construction and making one realise – like the Khachaturian – how densely populated that work is with striking themes.

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Daniel Jaffé