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The Violin Concerto (1940) made an instant impact, and rightly so. It has the ability to spin folk ideas into melodies with apparent ability to go on for ever. It is an uncanny knack, at the opposite extreme from folk tunes of which the only resource is a demand to be repeated louder. The solo part has the scurrying energy of top virtuosity but also a plangent lyricism that haunts the memory [listen -- track 1, 4:13-5:20].

In view of the ready beauty that characterises so much of the work, a later Poem on Stalin and Ode in Memory of Lenin, it is difficult to understand how the Soviet authorities decided to include Khachaturian in their 1948 clampdown on eminent composers. The slow movement, for instance, shows Khachaturian at his most ravishing [listen -- track 2, 1:10-2:22]. Stalin had disliked an opera about his native Georgia by Muradeli; his henchman Zhdanov made a characteristic onslaught: 'Bad, disharmonious music has a bad effect on man's psycho-physiological activity'. True enough, maybe, as witness many a western neurosis; but the effect in Russia was entirely dismal and negative: 'Everyone seemed to go mad and anyone who felt like it expressed an opinion on music.'

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Copyright © 24 March 2004 Robert Anderson, London UK


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