Khachaturian’s Cello Concerto (1946) was the last of his triptych of concertos to be written but remains the least known of the three, chiefly as a result of being one of the works condemned by the infamous Zhdanov Decree of 1948 for the supposed crimes of ‘formalism’ and not being cheerily optimistic enough. It is a more brooding work, certainly, than the piano and violin concertos, but one to which Dmitry Yablonsky’s darkly coloured and pensive playing seems ideally suited. Particularly effective is the way he unwinds the melody at the start of the slow movement, but he also attacks the more forceful passages without resorting to bluster or overwrought tone.
The Concerto–Rhapsody, like its companions for piano and violin, dates from the 1960s. It is a more diffuse work and its thematic writing doesn’t have the memorability of the concerto. Again, there’s plenty of sense of engagement from Yablonsky (who features as conductor elsewhere in Naxos’s Khachaturian concerto cycle) and supportive collaboration with the Moscow orchestra under its violinist–conductor.
The one disappointment is the sound: the solo cello is notoriously difficult to balance, but here Yablonsky seems to been given some unnatural highlighting, while the orchestra can sound fierce, even reminiscent of Soviet-era shrillness at times.