Symphony No. 2 in E Minor “Bells”/Khatchaturian
February 6, 2011
Written in 1943 and revised in 1944 the “Bell” symphony was awarded a Stalin prize in 1946 and one could not argue that point as it is a tragic tale of the horrors of World War II and the work represents this nicely. Like his first symphony this is also written in E Minor. Ten years produced a lot of maturity in the way Khachaturian approached a symphony. He went to the traditional four movement structure, increased the time and truly conveyed the horror of war, thus the Stalin prize. His orchestration had greatly improved.
The first movement Andante maestro expresses the war so well with yearning from the string section offering little hope of ever being able to pick up the pieces. The bassoon and wind section heighten the sadness. The Bell theme is introduced.
The Allegro Risoluto is quite staccato with a snare drum enhancing the agitation. The Andante Sostenuto is a thing of beauty. Aram has combined the medieval work Dies irae (A Day of Wrath), with an Armenian folksong Vorskan akhper (Brother Hunter), a scherzo, creating optimism as well as tragedy. He depicts the struggle extremely well. I’ve included an audio clip so you can hear firsthand what I’m talking about. The 4th movement brings the work to a climatic conclusion incorporating both the Bell theme from the first movement as well as the Dies irae theme.
This mono live recording has limited dynamic range and as such will not test your speakers with any excess treble or bass. The range is basically radio quality and is flat. In addition there are some annoying coughs which tend to distract. The advantage of this ten CD set from Brilliant Classics (CD#8818) is the extremely attractive price and the really nice selection of material included. Temirkanov includes not only Russian works but Dvorak, Beethoven, Ravel, and others. This is a work that is overlooked and to my knowledge there are only two additional recordings. One is the composer conducting (Khatchaturian Conducts Khatchaturian Meloydia MELCD 1001706) and the other by Leopold Stokowski the Maverick Conductor (EMI 6985552). I have no experience with either of these recordings. I found myself becoming very comfortable with it and I plan to return to it on a regular basis.
Brilliant Classics 8818.
1….Andante maestoso (16:48)
2….Allegro risoluto (9:24)
3….Andante sostenuto (12:05)
4….Andante mosso (11:19)
Total Time is 49:36