Friday, July 12, 2019

Kabalevsky & Khachaturian

No. 316 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


This month’s three podcasts (two on Friday and our quarterly Tuesday podcast) happen to share a common thread: Soviet-era composers and performers: Vladimir Ashkenazy (who left the Soviet Union for the West permanently in 1968), Emil Gilels and this week’s composers and performer who share the letter “K”: Kirill Kondrashin, and two contemporary compsers in Dmitry Kabalevsky and Aram Khachaturian.

In 1918 Kabalevsky moved with his family to Moscow, where he studied at the Scriabin Music School from 1919 to 1925, and in 1925 he entered the Moscow Conservatory. Appointed to the conservatory’s faculty in 1932, he began to develop an excellent reputation as a music teacher. Kabalevsky began writing music at age 18, at first mostly works for the piano. He made several European tours after World War II, playing his own music, and he won numerous awards in the Soviet Union, for his music and teaching as well as his loyal service to the government.
He is perhaps best known for the overture to his opera Colas Breugnon (1936; rev. 1953, 1969) and for his suite The Comedians (1940). Also included in this week’s podcast is the first of his two cello concertos.

Better known to western listeners, Khachaturian was trained at the Gnesin State Musical and Pedagogical Institute in Moscow and at the Moscow Conservatory and was a professor at both schools from 1951. As a young composer, he was influenced by contemporary Western music, particularly that of Maurice Ravel. In later works, this influence was supplanted by a growing appreciation of folk traditions, not only those of his Armenian forebears but also those of Georgia, Russia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. Best known for his ballet Gayane (1942 - which includes the popular, rhythmically stirring Sabre Dance), his other works include a symphonic suite, Masquerade (1944); the ballets Happiness (1939) and Spartak (1953; “Spartacus”); he also composed the music for the Armenian national anthem, as well as film scores and incidental music.

To balance out with the Kabalevsky selections, I included a performance of his Concerto-Rhapsody for cello and orchestra (1963) by yet another Soviet-era performer, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

After a tenure with the Bolshoi Theatre (1943-56), Kirill Kondrashin concentrated on orchestral conducting, becoming sought after as a concerto accompanist and working with the country’s leading instrumentalists, such as Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan, David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter and Rostropovich. In the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958, Kondrashin was the conductor for Van Cliburn, who won the first prize. After the competition he toured the USA with Cliburn, being the first Russian conductor to visit America since the Cold War began. They performed and recorded the Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which they had played in the competition. The recordings easily sold millions of copies in America, and their Tchaikovsky recording for RCA Victor was the first classical LP to go platinum. The performances and recordings with Van Cliburn helped to establish an international reputation for Kondrashin. He held numerous subsequent engagements in the America, the last being a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in February 1981.

The two suites (Comedians and Masquerade) are taken from the same October 20, 1958 Manhattan Center recording by the RCA Symphony Orchestra (the likely remnants of the NBC Symphony/Symphony of the Air) under Kondrashin, a few months after the Cliburn sessions at Carnegie Hall.

I think you will love This Music Too.

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