Not since the Jemelik/Klima version of the Khachaturian Piano Concerto that appeared on a Parliament LP around 1960 have I heard a recording of this work as compelling as this new one from Naxos. I've endured through the Katz/Boult, Entremont/Ozawa, De Larrocha/Fruhbeck De Burgos, Orbelian/Järvi, and maybe some others, always with an expectation that the next one would get religion and play with the nearly wanton drive and raw spirit that made the Jemelik so riveting. Well, Yablonskaya turns in a less frenzied performance, to be sure, but one that still captures the vivacious, folksy elements with gusto and muscle, while managing to find subtlety and depth as well, traits one doesn't usually associate with this score. And her conductor son, Dmitri, partners her with a deft baton that both catches fire and soothes at just the right moments.
From the opening timpani stroke and fleet tempo that follows you know this is a Khachaturian concerto of power and propulsiveness. And Yablonskaya's subtle control of dynamics is evident throughout: there are few pianists who can match her ability to rise from soft pianissimos to potent fortes without seeming abrupt or insensitive. Her first movement cadenza (track 1; 10:58) is a model of sensitivity, virtuosity, and idiomatic grasp. This concerto, let's face it, succeeds or fails depending upon how the soloist erects the fragile scaffolding that connects these three elements. Just listen to her patrician, yet luscious, phrasing of the main theme in its big reappearance in the Andante (track 2; 7:11). Only Jemelik, among her competition, reads the music with this same kind of unhurried, majestically flowing and dramatic approach. I wish all pianists had the good sense to play this passage at this moderate tempo and with this penetrating insight. It's ironic that Jemelik and Yablonskaya are otherwise faster than the others (except for Orbelian), but faster where it counts.
Yablonskaya renders the lesser and less well known Rhapsody with the same kind of artistic insight and virtuosity. It's a good, typically Khachaturian piece, though not a major work. But if you like the exotic, I guaranty you'll like this. The Moscow Symphony plays splendidly in both works. Ates Orga supplies copious and informative notes, and Naxos provides excellent sound. For the concerto, unless you can dig up the Jemelik (re-released on, I believe, Urania with a coupling from a different composer), this is the recording to have. And even then, if I were forced to choose between Yablonskaya and Jemelik, price and sonics and the coupling tilt the scales decidedly in favor of the former.
Copyright © 1997, Robert Cummings