Aram Khachaturian, either a “…lighter-weight participant among 20th-century composers… certified as a great artist by the promoters of classical music… even at his best he was a minor figure, and his music these days has little to offer, not because it is conventional, but because its materials and ideas are second-rate…frankly composed popular music…formula writing… bureaucratic composer, turning out well-crafted pieces of no personality, and certainly nothing that would rock the boat… one of Soviet music’s yes men …very underperformed… somewhat underrated..․”

or “…a major composer of the 20th century… a man of pronounced gifts… the individuality of his melodies, infiltrated as they are with Oriental flavor of his Armenian heritage… the elemental surge of his rhythm which easily grows wild… immense musician who believes in the peasant heart and who has said so unabashedly in his music…”

But, just in case you were wondering, I liked Aram Khachaturian’s galloping, melodically soupy music from the moment I first heard it in 1959, when, along with Emil Gilels, David Oistrakh, and other Soviet artists, the 56-year-old Armenian composer, reinstated as a revered member of the Soviet musical establishment, came to Cuba to lead the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra in a series of concerts that included several of Khachaturian’s ballet warhorses, along with Russian music by the old masters.

I was just fifteen then and most of what I knew about classical music was the Church-approved choral music that I sang in choir, still as a boy alto on the brink of full-blown voice change and puberty.

Many years later, having joined the ranks of those whom Leonard Bernstein described as not ever having a monument built in their honor, I have come to view Khachaturian’s politics as abhorrent and his music as quite entertaining, even charming.

The Armenian composer may not be in the same league of fair-weather Soviets like Shostakovich or Prokofiev, but neither is he out of his element as a writer of tuneful, energetic piano music so well represented in this BIS album by the fine pianist Lyad Sughayer, with Sir Andrew Litton leading the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

Rafael de Acha has enjoyed a distinguished career in the arts as a performer, stage director, producer, educator, and critic. He was born and grew up in Cuba, and at the age of 17 he moved to the United States to go to college, eventually earning degrees from the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, and the New England Conservatory of Music.

He co-founded the award-winning New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, where he produced and staged twenty seasons of classical and contemporary theater, including world premieres of plays that went on to have international and national productions, including Ana in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz (Pulitzer Prize for Drama 2002 and Tony Nomination 2003.) Upon his retirement the Dade County Cultural Affairs Council issued him and his wife a citation for “trailblazing contributions to the arts in South Florida.”

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