Sergey & Lusine Khachatryan

Sonata for Piano and Violin in B flat, K378
Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, Op.105
Violin Sonata, Op.134

Sergey Khachatryan (violin) & Lusine Khachatryan (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 10 October, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Winner of the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels in 2005, Sergey Khachatryan (born 1985) has already established a formidable reputation – not least with his performances of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto. That composer featured in the second half of this recital: one that constituted a thoughtful overview of the ‘violin sonata’ across the Classical, Romantic and Modern ages.

Few would consider Mozart’s B flat sonata to be among his deepest or most personal sonatas, but the first movement’s deft passing between themes of a major or minor cast, and the seamless interplay of instruments that later eras came to see as irreconcilable opposites, were qualities fully borne out by Khachatryan – whose absolute rapport with his sister Lusine was in evidence throughout the evening, not least in an elegant and gently buoyant account of the sonata’s finale.

It was excellent programming to follow this with Schumann’s First Sonata – as this product of the composer’s troubled years in Düsseldorf, generally overshadowed by its more imposing successor, is among his tautest and most incisive instrumental works: encapsulating his finest qualities with none of their relative weaknesses. Khachatryan brought unforced spontaneity to the opening movement’s contrasts of passion and pathos, then a telling lightness of touch to the Intermezzo that revisits the corresponding movement of the Piano Concerto without any of the latter’s tendency to preciousness. Nor was the finale’s surging emotion at all downplayed, with Khachatryan rightly putting emphasis on the major-key episode that places the intensity either side in a decidedly more affecting perspective.

Ironic that is has taken his centenary year for Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata to receive the airings this fine if uncompromising work has long warranted. Numerous Russian violinists (notably dedicatee David Oistrakh and, then, Oleg Kagan and Rostislav Dubinsky) have kept it at the edges of the repertoire, and there can be no doubt that Khachatryan has already joined them. In an era, moreover, which has seen so many of Shostakovich’s major compositions subject to expressive overkill, it was heartening to hear the initial Moderato with tempo relationships between its pensive and acerbic main themes rendered with such unassertive rightness – as was Khachatryan’s accuracy in the spectral passages of harmonics and sul ponticello that dominate its later stages. The central Allegretto was propulsive but never hectoring, with the contrast between serial and tonal elements borne out to telling effect. Even finer was the final Largo – last and most implacable of Shostakovich’s passacaglias, imperiously launched and built to a point where cadenzas for each instrument galvanised their climactic coming-together, before a retreat into the desolation with which many of the works from this composer’s last decade conclude.

A inspired and also inspiring performance, then, from both musicians – and one that augurs well for Khachatryan’s disc of the Shostakovich concertos, due out shortly from Naïve. It might have been better not to try and follow such a statement, but the choice of Ravel’s Kaddish – moving in its calm and limpid clarity – and an unidentified second encore that was given with the right degree of suavity, at least sent the audience home in a sounder frame of mind. As duos go, Sergey and Lusine Khachatryan are a partnership to be reckoned with, and their future Wigmore Hall appearances can only be keenly awaited.

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