Sergey Khachatryan recital at Wigmore Hall, London 30/1/04

February 1, 2004 at 02:54 AM · I went to this with high expectations after his Khachaturian in the Festival Hall a couple of month ago. I wasn't disappointed. The programme was

Mozart Violin Sonata in E minor, K. 304 (K. 300c)

Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 5 in F, Op. 24 'Spring'

Debussy Violin Sonata in G minor

Schumann Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105

The Mozart was just sublime - it happens to be one of my favourite Mozart Sonatas and one that I play often - sadly not as he can play it - such maturity and feeling and intonation to die for - like all Mozart, the slightest slip has nowhere to hide and he made none - one slightly rasping bow in the 2nd movement and perhaps he indulged himself a little too much in the gorgeous modulation into the major before the end, but these are minor criticisms. The Beethoven was accomplished and daring, lovely smooth runs in the first movement, delicacy in next two and power and delicacy combined in the last. His accompanist, in the first half his father, had a couple of slight lapses but on the whole this was beautiful playing.

After the interval he gave a lyrical reading of the Debussy, technical difficulties of course non existent - one slightly rasping bow in the third movement. I thought at the RFH that he needs a better violin and I am now sure - he is playing on what I suspect to be a moderately undistinguished Guagagnini and it really showed in the Debussy when at times the artifical harmonics scarcely sounded at all. It is a tribute to his power that most of the time he still produces an absolutely gorgeous sound but I would love to hear what he could do on a Strad - it would be something really special. Then he came to the Schumann, with which I was unfamiliar. It was a performance of real passion, both in the first and the last movements, particularly the last where the contest between the piano and the violin was a delight and the power in his bowing really came to the fore. He was particularly well supported on the piano by his sister Lucine, who has real technique and delicacy of touch.

Of course there was a major ovation and 4 curtain calls before he and his father gave us some Sarasate - he didn't announce what & I couldn't quite place it - he did tell me after the concert what it was but I have forgotten again. Rather subdued, few pyrotechnics, typically spanish-sounding. There were another three curtain calls and then he came out and launched into the Ysaye No. 3 as if he were coming out to start a recital, not ending one after two hours of playing. It sparkled, it corruscated, it amazed. What technique - oh wow. At the end there was a standing ovation - well at least I stood, which counts for a standing ovation at the Wigmore!

Afterwards I spoke to a couple of other young professional violinists who I recognised in the audience and got just as high an opinion as I had formed, especially of the Ysaye, which just seemed unbelievable. The main thing was not the pyrotechnics though - this was a beautifully judged programme full of music, with very little techical show-off, and he played it with great judgment and maturity well beyond his years. Afterwards he came out and spent a long time. very charming and relaxed, with the audience, signing CDs etc - very very unusual at the Wigmore. What more can I say - keep an eye on this guy - he is going right to the top - and fast!

Replies (24)

February 1, 2004 at 03:09 AM · lol, Brian, you are an invaluable resource for everyone everywhere. I hope the British government passes that tuition bill coming up, and hopefully better one that is a lot better than £3000 soon after that, for your sake.

February 1, 2004 at 07:45 AM · They passed it on Tuesday Anton.

Brian, thanks for sharing - I wish I could have gone, but I had a major work overload. Be sure to tell us if you see a review in any of the British newspapers.

I hear Mutter and Sergey got absolutely panned by the critics in the Bach concertos concert with the London Philharmonic. Did you go to that concert as well?


February 1, 2004 at 07:57 AM · Really? That's great, I thought they were going to vote next week. I must have missed it somehow. Anyhow, it is good to hear that "the loss-making business" that it isn't as bad as before, still bad though.

Brian, I hear Oxford is going to increase the number of foreign students they admit, is that true and would that increase my chances of getting in there in the future?

On a note relating to the topic at hand a bit more, does anyone know the touring dates and venues of Sergey Khachatryan?

February 1, 2004 at 10:50 AM · Hi Anton, Carl,

Dont get too excited about top-up fees - a) they have to get through a lot more stages in Committee before the bill becomes law b) no money will flow to the universities until I think 2007 c) it isn't enough money anyway. Even Oxford is grinding to a halt because of funding problems. Yes, we are moving towards more foreign students and away from undergraduate degrees to postgraduate degrees - but it will be a very gradual change and it is still going to be difficult to get in - but try - if you're good enough, you'll make it.

The only engagement I know of for Sergey is in Malvern on February 27, 2004 with the English Symphony Orchestra when he plays Lalo. I have asked for more details and will be sure to post them if I hear anything.

February 1, 2004 at 05:00 PM · I will be in the last generation students not to have the top up fees if I don't take a gap year - but I'm going to anyway.

Back to Sergey - what does anybody think of his new Sibelius/Khachaturian CD? I haven't heard it yet.


February 1, 2004 at 10:40 PM · Well I think it is stunning - particularly the Khachaturian, but the Sibelius is excellent too.

I hadn't seen the reviews of the Bach double, but if they were awful I would point the finger at Frau Mutter rather than Sergey. I thought I was pretty neutral about her, but this morning I heard a recording on Classic FM on the Aled Jones show of her playing the Meditation from Thais which was absolutely awful - real liquid sugar stuff. Yuk.

February 1, 2004 at 11:14 PM · As I thought - here is a bit from the Times Online Review -

"Finally, after the interval, young Khachatryan sloped on, in open-neck shirt and patent pumps — slightly gauche, and rather as though he were prepared for a masterclass.

Mutter certainly made the going in the Double Concerto. Her forefinger described a neat, equilateral triangle at the start of the slow movement: her violin soared higher, but Khachatryan’s sought greater depth. The music lived and sang within his entire body, not just his head. What a pity they hadn’t played one concerto each before the interval."


February 1, 2004 at 11:21 PM · I agree 100% with what you said about Mutter.

February 2, 2004 at 08:13 AM · Her finger made an equilateral triangle?? Jeez, and I thought I had some weird review quotes...

February 2, 2004 at 12:00 PM · yeah really lol. and brian, although the music shuns on this profession of a music critic(even though ive considered it for myself) you make a pretty good music critic it seems. you have a good sense of what is going on i guess.

February 2, 2004 at 02:52 PM · Emil - yes, I hadn't the slightest idea what this bit about the equilateral triangle was supposed to mean - since she was leading as well as playing, perhaps this was her counting the orchestra in?

Thanks Chris - you are too kind. I am always reminded of the various choice quotes from Shaw on the subject of music critics - of which he was of course one of the most distinguished. I certainly have no ambitions to join the ranks - but if one hears something superb, it is nice to try to share it a little with one's friends.

Looks as if the view on the Mutter/Sergey Bach is pretty unanimous - here is an except from the "Guardian" reviewof the same concert.

"In the double concerto, Mutter was partnered by the young Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan, and in each movement it was the teenager's playing that was the most sensitive: where Mutter's phrasing was square and literal, his was imaginative and supple, and his heartfelt playing of the main melody of the slow movement provided the concert's most memorable frisson. In fact, it was Khachatryan, not Mutter, who proved the possibility of playing Bach without ceding to the early music movement."

Another one to Sergey!

February 2, 2004 at 05:21 PM · I really admire Sergey's playing and have ever since I heard him in Vienna in 2001. It was the first (and so far the ONLY) time where I heard a Sibelius concerto exactly the way I wanted to hear it. Usually, there's a feeling of "well, that's interesting/lovely/wonderful, but I'd prefer to do it THIS way..." whereas here was a performance that, quite literall, said everything I would have intended to say had I been playing.

But in defence of Mutter, though I vehemently disagreed with a Beethoven concerto of hers I heard on the radio (though I'm not sure what year that recording was from), I also heard one of the most gorgeous Respighi sonatas from her yesterday as I drove to a "giglet" in Philly. If you don't have her recording (with Lambert, I think), you should definitely get it. Tremendous power, drive, and a color palette that was as wide-ranging as it was appropriate to the needs of each given moment.

February 2, 2004 at 10:44 PM · What's a giglet?

February 3, 2004 at 12:10 AM · I think I heard the same Beethoven, was the cadenza just completely off the wall?

A giglet for me would be a one-time event like a wedding or some such thing.

February 3, 2004 at 01:09 AM · Nope, Laurie. I started using the term to describe little recitals at schools, retirement communities and the like. It's a sort of mini-gig, you see. A gig-lette. Giglet for short.

However, I always describe recitals like the ones coming up in Santa Rosa or DC or Malibu or even the guest appearance in NYC as "concerts". The separating line between the two tends to be either the visibility surrounding the event (critics or pre-concert publicity), or the fee, or the artists with whom I get to collaborate. Or the venue.

I don't mean to denigrate "giglets", however. They've been a phenomenal learning experience for me in terms of running through repertoire and giving new works a sort of baptism of fire, as it were.

February 3, 2004 at 02:37 PM · Here's the opinion of a reviewer I respect - in the Daily Telegraph - well their sports and arts coverage is good, even if nothing else is.

"Sergey Khachatryan, the 18-year-old Armenian violinist, is clearly being groomed for greatness, but it would be misleading to say he has already attained it, and perhaps unreasonable to expect him to have done so.

Although he is brimful of promise, this was a perplexing solo recital, particularly in the wake of his recent recording of the Sibelius and Khachaturian concertos, in which he seemed to have so much of eloquence and interest to say.

For the recital programme, he chose his repertoire from a broad base, embracing Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Debussy. But he seemed to be more intimidated than inspired by the diverse styles of music, and much of it was subsumed into a generalised tastefulness.

The evening was a family affair. His pianists were Vladimir Khachatryan and Lusine Khachatryan, who, one must assume in the absence of any guidance in the programme, are relatives. As a violinist, Sergey has many polished tools of the trade in a pure, sweet tone, firm control and a confident technique, but on this occasion the personality of the playing was well-guarded.

It could be argued that, in a teenage musician, individuality has not had time to develop; at least he did err on the judicious side here: there was nothing in his playing that was extraneous or gratuitously flashy, nothing that went for easy effect or distorted the music with ill-advised gesture.

But as his spectrum of musical experience widens in the future, he will, for example, find that there is more to Beethoven's "Spring" Sonata and Mozart's in E minor K304 than the patina of serenity with which each was coated here. Little was made of the off-beat rhythmic wit in the Beethoven's scherzo; there was something diffident about the way he tackled musical argument.

In Schumann's A minor Sonata Op 105, the music's dark, troubled passion was hinted at but not thoroughly explored. In Debussy's Sonata, the approach was just a bit too literal for the fantasy to take wing. None of which is truly reprehensible. Much rather this degree of caution than a violinist who asserts himself with wrong-headed flamboyance.

Khachatryan is doing things the right way round, in getting to grips with the basics of his repertoire before making it his own.

But in years to come he will probably look back on these interpretations and realise that they were not yet full-grown."

Well, I disagree, but perhaps there is a grain of truth in what he says. Anyway, he celearly left before the Ysaye encore!

How did your "giglet" go, Emil? What did you play?

February 3, 2004 at 09:02 PM · The giglet programme was the Beethoven Kreutzer, Boyle's "Kreutzer Concert Variations", and the Saint-Saens "Introduction and Rondo". I was really quite happy with the Kreutzer, and the Boyle went very well as well. Other than flagrantly screwing up the broken E major arpeggio right before the first return of the rondo's subject (and not for the first time this week!) I sort of recovered. Enough, at any rate, to play the coda at a more blistering tempo than I thought I had in me.

As for the review, if I were going to get a review from an underwhelmed critic, I suppose I would want something like this. After all, he doesn't write of either tastelessness nor a lack of musicianship, or even technical flaws. He writes of an excess of caution. There are far worse things to be accused of and which are easier to shed, if necessary. Having heard Sergey live, and having found it daring, interest-sustaining playing, I'd venture to guess that what happened in Wigmore was that someone from his inner circle (teacher? coach? parent?) pointed out to him that English audiences are Vedddy Well Bred, and that he should play with the musical equivalent of a stiff upper lip. Perhaps he was tailoring his playing, in other words, to the basic stereotype of the British public. It says quite a lot for his control that he CAN do something like that. I always find it pretty much impossible to play in a manner not intrinsic to me. Getting into the character of a given piece is one thing, but for me to play overcautiously is, I think, a stretch too far to handle. Kudos to him that such a stretch is at his disposal.

February 4, 2004 at 06:31 PM · I just listening to his Sibelius concerto recording (haven't listened yet to Khachaturian). It's surprisingly sensitive and tender...this disk is far more stunning than his debut recital CD. It's...special playing. Definitely different, and very endearing.

February 22, 2004 at 01:12 AM · he is the next heifetz period. Makes every curtis student look like a 2 year old

February 22, 2004 at 08:54 AM · Dan, those are strong opinions!

But I have to agree; the way he plays the Waxman Carmen Fantasy is more interesting and more controlled then Vengerov's, to my ears.

Is the Sibelius/Khachaturian disc worth getting? I still haven't heard it.


February 22, 2004 at 09:24 PM · his sibelius is wonderful - he did win the competition when he was like 15. But at another competition, the horn player completely messed up and made this nasty sound, which made sergey miss a few notes in the cocnerto, and they gave him the silver for that. He still played it 100 times better than the gold medalist. He is truly a master of the instrument. All of his technique is near perfected.

February 24, 2004 at 04:17 AM · I believe you're talking about Indianapolis. When he messed up in the third movement, that was definitely a memory slip. If it was because of the horn player, then he has a long way to go in handling playing with orchestras that mess up. Otherwise, is he going to mess up everytime the orchestra messes up? The gold medalist, Barnabas Keleman, I actually think deserved it. Quite a good player.

February 24, 2004 at 04:51 AM · His Sibelius/Khachaturian cd will be released on March 16th in the US.

February 25, 2004 at 03:10 PM · I would be interested in hearing anyone's opinion about the Khachaturian - you've all commented on the Sibelius - which I agree is superb - but personally I think the Khachaturian is even better!

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