Khachaturian • Prokofiev
Khachaturian: Masquerade Suite; Spartacus Suite; Prokofiev: Summer Night Suite; Scythian Suite
Zagreb Philharmonic/Dmitrij Kitajenko
Oehms OC471 84:33 mins (2 discs)
Despite overpromotion in a surprisingly large number of reviews, Dmitri Kitajenko has never been a conductor to set pulses racing, at least in my experience. Personality-packed Prokofiev and cinematographic Khachaturian need so much more than this. Let’s not blame the perfectly good Zagreb Philharmonic players, who do all the right things both collectively and in the solo department (woodwind especially). In place of excitement, there’s textural clarity, and the recording certainly helps out – but it’s too high a price to pay.
The choice of music is strong, though only three movements from Khachaturian’s Spartacus are at least one too few to justify the big victory swagger at the end (it looks as if the entire programme was planned for one disc, but ran over). And in more alert hands, the Boléro-like crescendo of the final movement to Prokofiev’s Summer Night Suite, drawn from the lavish operatic comedy Betrothal in a Monastery, would be mirrored by the reverse move found in the swaggering opening of the much earlier Scythian Suite. Without panache and temperament, though, that symmetry passes for little.
There’s no poking-out of tongues in the Masquerade Suite, and the two beautiful love-melodies in the second and fourth movements of Summer Night might as well be sung by Wagner’s Beckmesser. I exaggerate slightly, since this is at least competent and the solo cello substituting for the lyric tenor in the Serenade is fine; but who wants dull and safe in showpieces like this?