Sergey & Lusine Khachatryan BRAHMS Sonatas

When I listen to Khachatryan (b. 1985), I’m reminded of another young, award-winning violinist of approximately the same age, this one Russian, Ilya Gringolts (b. 1982). The reminder, however, is one of contrasts rather than of similarities. You see, I also have Gringolts’s recording of the Sibelius Concerto with Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, made not long after Khachatryan made his recording of the piece with Emmanuel Krivine and the Sinfonia Varsovia, and the differences are stark. Both violinists are virtuosos of the first order, nowadays something that almost goes without saying. But Gringolts belongs to what I call the “slash and burn” school of playing, which is to say that sheer beauty of sound is not infrequently sacrificed on the altar of go-for-broke risk-taking and the coarsening of tone that inevitably comes with the hard-driving performance approach.
That said, I’m fully aware that preferences in manners and styles of playing are largely a matter of taste, and so it’s with that in mind that I count Sergey Khachatryan a violinist much more to my personal liking than Gringolts. From the very opening strains of Brahms’s G-Major Sonata, I hear in Khachatryan not just a violinist with impeccable technique and radiant tone, but an artist of high intelligence and a musician of the highest ethical sensibilities. To no small degree, his Brahms reminds me of David Oistrakh’s, with Gina Bauer in the First Sonata and with Richter in the Second and Third sonatas.
Nothing is exaggerated, overstated, or pressed. No gratuitous portamentos interrupt the smooth flow of the lines. Only the natural ebb and flow of Brahms’s phrases, with which Khachatryan and sister Lusine rise and fall in sublime unanimity, are made manifest in these gorgeous readings. Just listen to the transcendent beauty of the second theme in the first movement of the G-Major Sonata, to how it expands to embrace an exalted state of ecstasy. In one breath, this has gone from being just another recording of Brahms’s violin sonatas to my absolute favorite, surpassing in wonder and glory even the Stefan Jackiw and Max Levison version on Sony whose virtues I extolled in 34:4.
Everything I’ve said and then some applies to the Khachatryans’ readings of the A-Major and D-Minor sonatas as well. Listen to and be gripped by the terrifying tale Brahms tells in the last movement of the D-Minor Sonata. Never have the parallels to the first movement of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata been clearer. But for me, what makes Sergey’s performance so transfixing is that he delivers Brahms’s uncharacteristic outburst of spite and spleen with nary a scrape or scratch of the bow. How much sharper is the cut from a scalpel than from a blunt blade.
Even if you have half-a-dozen or more recordings of these sonatas on your shelf, shift them around, throw one out, do whatever you have to do to make room for this one; it’s truly special. (FANFARE: Jerry Dubins)

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