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Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, July 2012

This Violin Concerto, that almost seemed to take off from the ending of the Concerto-Rhapsody, was highly praised by Russian critics being noted for both oriental and Caucasian elements and passages. I personally found the music to be tuneful, lyrical and almost relaxing and all with the violin being featured…the last movement…all comes alive for a rather lively and appropriate ending. It is recommended for violin lovers looking for something new. © 2012 Positive Feedback Online Read complete review

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, September 2009

Serebrier and the Orchestra keep the fires burning through the performance, communicating the score’s exoticism and at times glaringly colorful orchestration.

[Koeckert] obviously possesses the tonal resources and the technical command to project the work’s splashy colors (and he does so effectively in climactic moments like the first movement’s coda). © 2009 Fanfare Read complete review

Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, August 2009

…the music of Khachaturian has come into its own and is holding up beautifully. The German violinist Nicolas Koeckert brings a light but lyrical touch to the Violin Concerto in D Minor and the Concerto-Rhapsody in the brooding key of B flat minor. (The difference between a Concerto and a Concerto-Rhapsody? As Khachaturian wittily explained: “A concerto is music with chandeliers burning bright; a rhapsody is music with chandeliers dimmed, and the Concerto-Rhapsodies are both.”) High points include the concerto’s lonely, passionate Andante and bracing, atmospheric last movement. Serebrier, no stranger to Naxos, approaches the music with sensitivity.

William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, August 2009

Khachaturian seemed to think in threes: three symphonies, three concertos, three concerto-rhapsodies, three solo string sonatas. The works we are concerned with here provide a contrast in mood and style as well as dating from radically different times in the composer’s life. They are also a contrast in terms of fame. The Concerto is one of the best-known Russian violin concertos, with over two dozen recordings currently available. The Concerto-Rhapsody is far less well-known and has only one other recording at present, interestingly enough on the same label as this one.

The Violin Concerto dates from 1940 and solidified the composer’s fame after the Symphony No. 1 and Piano Concerto. It has all the folkloric verve that Khachaturian is associated with in the popular mind, but equally demonstrates his ability to channel that verve into classical procedures. The performance here comes down a little strongly on the classical side as it is very precise and well-thought-out, but neither can it be said to lack excitement. Nicolas Koeckert shows wonderful intonation in the first movement. He is especially good in the responsive passages between the soloist and the orchestral winds. In the cadenza he is not so interesting, but finishes the movement very excitingly. He gets the true Armenian flavor in the slow movement and plays the coda with its gradual dying away to the end wonderfully. The third movement opens volcanically and Serebrier provides plenty of excitement, in which up to now he has been a little deficient. Koeckert could be a little more dynamic here. In the middle section he again demonstrates his well-defined style and in the last section all involved demonstrate the true Khachaturian dynamism.

The Concerto-Rhapsody shows the effects both of being written twenty years after the Violin Concerto and of the composer’s changed attitude towards Soviet life in general. Khachaturian once said that “…a concerto is music with chandeliers burning bright; a rhapsody is music with chandeliers dimmed and the Concerto-Rhapsodies are both.” Actually this Concerto-Rhapsody could be described as somber. The opening revolves closely around the gloomy home key and broadens out somewhat through the course of the section as it also becomes more folkloric, but never loses its dark atmosphere. There is an interesting use of the harp. The middle section is more lyrical, but still distant and eventually returns to the mood of the opening of the piece. The final section starts out in a more lively vein, but cannot escape the influence of the tonic, heading into a very mysterious passage, somewhat reminiscent of Prokofiev, before a more conventional finale. Koeckert’s precision is perfectly suited to this piece and he very effectively brings out a variety of subtle shades, both harmonically and dramatically. Serebrier also seems more engaged here than in the Concerto and the overall impression is one of greater depth and variety than many would normally associate with Khachaturian.

Koeckert is a violinist of wide range and capability, although, as said above, I preferred his approach in the more ruminative Concerto-Rhapsody. Serebrier is well-known for his range of repertoire, which he demonstrates again, although he did seem uncommitted to the Concerto here. The Royal Philharmonic is in excellent form on this disc, attacking everything that needs to be attacked and staying behind the scenes when that is necessary. Unfortunately, Watford Town Hall is not at its usual standard on this recording. There is a fair amount of blaring in the Concerto and some blankness in both works. For the Concerto there are recordings to suit every taste, but only one other of the Concerto-Rhapsody and I would recommend this one. It provides an excellent introduction to a comparative rarity in the composer’s output.

John-Pierre Joyce
MusicWeb International, July 2009

Naxos continues its strong tradition of bringing to light the works of neglected composers with this release of pieces for violin and orchestra by Soviet-Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian.
Best known for his sprawling ballet scores Spartacus and Gayane—also available on Naxos [Spartacus Suites Nos. 1–3 (8.550801) & Suite No. 4 (8.550802),  Gayane Suites nos. 1–3 (8.550800)]—Khachaturian brings the same melodic inspiration to the Concerto-Rhapsody and Violin Concerto. Composed in 1961, the Concerto-Rhapsody is a hybrid work cast in a single movement, but with two distinct sections. Essentially it is a vehicle for virtuosic violin playing, with only minor orchestral interjections. Nicolas Koeckert effortlessly rises to Khachaturian’s technical demands both here and in the concerto. He easily copes with the complexities of rapid scales, double-stopping and melodic shifts while at the same time giving a warm and impassioned reading. Because the work is essentially a soloist’s showcase, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under José Serebrier seldom get the chance to show off their own abilities, although there are some fine passages for low woodwind and harp…the concerto’s overall lyricism and folk colourings make for pleasant listening. The central Andante, for example, contains a beautiful, fluid violin line. The dance themes in the final Allegro are also foot-tappingly catchy, although they are not fully developed. The opening Allegro has its high points too—notably a fiendishly complex cadenza…

Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, June 2009

Recorded at the Colosseum, Town Hall, Watford, England 10–11 April 2008, these two virtuoso display pieces for violin and orchestra embrace the idiosyncratic Armenian voice of Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978). The Concerto-Rhapsody in B-flat Minor dates from the period in the 1960s that produced a trio of such works—for cello, piano, and violin—the last dedicated to Leonid Kogan, who premiered the work 7 October 1962. The violin part features any number of scale-figures, often modal in nature, over a harp and plucked-string and woodwind accompaniment. The musical episodes more than not exploit the folk-balletic impulse, and more than one passing reference implies Gaynah or Spartacus. The music seems to divide itself into sections that alternate and repeat, the more melodic of the sequences floating in a colorful, gypsy style that rarely offends the ear. Rather, Khachaturian takes Wagner’s concept of seamless melody one step further, having forged a tapestry of nocturnal sounds that, after some thirteen minutes, breaks off in a scherzo with percussion and brass, enlarged shades of Stravinsky’s violin writing for L’Histoire du Soldat or the second movement from Prokofiev’s D Major Concerto. The last pages might pay tribute to the Bartok Second Concerto.

The more familiar Violin Concerto in D Minor (1 940), cast for legendary David Oistrakh, has solo Koeckert (b. 1979) frolicking in vivacious, oriental, languorous colors in the outer movements, singing a love song in the Andante sostenuto. Huge pedal points and vigorous rhythms, along with etched timbres from horns, woodwinds, strings, and tympani make the Concerto a naturally fascinating study in royal colors. Serebrier’s harpist exerts much effort to provide a damask background for the violin’s flights of fancy, a step away from Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. In the quieter passages, Serebrier’s excellent capacity for subito provides a chamber music transparency to the proceedings. Typical of Serebrier’s color-vision, that innate gift augmented by studies with Stokowski, the second movement overflows with erotic motion, any number of veiled suggestions arising from the composer’s low woodwinds. The last movement, the ultimate Khachaturian whirling dervish, flutters, breezes, and sizzles by in due acrobatic virtuosity—a lucid reading full of musical abandon. For all of Koeckert’s fine and blistering wizardry, his silken and elegant tone, the liner notes provide no clue as to the instrument he plays—but should it turn out to be a Guarnerius, Amati, or Stradivarius, it would seem fitting given the stellar quality of his sound.

Patricia Kelly
Courier Mail, May 2009

It must be daunting for a violinist to step into the shoes of greats such as David Oistrakh or Leonid Kogan who premiered the two works on this disc, Concerto-Rhapsody in B flat minor for violin and orchestra and Violin Concerto by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. Multi-award winning young German-Brazilian violinist Nicolas Koeckert more than holds his own and melds the spirit of his own considerable heritage and that of the composer in these two compositions.

Unrelenting energy is the hallmark of the music and Koeckert has that in abundance. With José Serebrier conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Koeckert sets and maintains the passionate drive of both works. One might weep that composers such as Khachaturian and Shostakovich were chastened, at times, into composing as their Soviet masters commanded, but there is still joy that the individual voices were not silenced. In these performances soloist and band drive with compelling force through the charged musical territory, the flashing folk idioms and the classic virtuosity woven into an individual and distinctive whole. Koeckert shapes rich textures with firm strokes and warm violin tone that partakes of the best of both traditions and produces new musical synergies. After the concerto’s first frenzied movement, Koeckert pulls back the pace but not the fervour in the poignant andante. He produces several close-knit moments with solo instruments in the orchestra, then all plunge headlong into the vertiginous finale. We could with more Khachaturian in our orchestral concerts.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2009

Khachaturian’s name is familiar for his colourful ‘pop’ classics, but they have sadly overshadowed his many other works of a more serious nature. The Concerto-Rhapsody, written in 1961, came at a time when he had fallen victim of the pressures exerted by the Soviet State regime. He did rather rely on his stock-in-trade style of writing, everything predictable but highly attractive, the big noisy orchestral outburst, as we come to the conclusion, geared to audience approbation.The Violin Concerto is another matter altogether, for here the score attracts virtuosos by asking them to put their technique to the test in its many difficulties, not least in the fact that some of the passages fall uneasily for the fingers. David Oistrakh gave its first performance in 1940 and later placed on disc unequalled performances that bristle with outgoing brilliance. The German-Brazilian soloist, Nicolas Koeckert, the winner of a number of major competitions, does not take the reckless tempi other recordings offer early in the opening movement, and opts out of that white-heat approach. I like his relaxed view of the cadenza. and he ideally picks up the tempo in the last section. Not even Oistrakh generates the passion I always found in the slow movement, Koeckert taking a gentle swaying pulse in the opening, conductor José Serebrier driving the central section forward, tempos becomes increasingly spontaneous through to the end of the movement. With exceptional left-hand agility Koeckert makes light of the finale’s difficulties, his violin preferring sweetness to the nutty G string sound we usually hear. The dynamic range is exceedingly large, orchestral tutti passages sure to have your speakers dancing around.

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