This disc opens with Khachaturian's famous "Sabre Dance" from his ballet "Gayane" but there is so much more to this generous disc which features 79 minutes of highlights from Khachaturian's two famous ballets, "Gayane" and "Spartacus", plus the suite of incidental music composed for a production of "Masquerade". The "Sabre Dance" is the item that is probably most familiar to the casual classical music listener but most will also recognize the georgeous "Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia", frantic "Gallop" and sumptuous "Waltz" from "Masquerade", and the haunting "Gayane's Adgio" which, scored solely for strings, heavily influenced the opening title of James Horner's score for "Aliens".
The rest of the excerpts, most between 2 and 6 minutes, are varied in terms of style and mood and are all delightful and atmospheric. Although Aram Khachaturian was Armenian he was trained at the Moscow Conservatory and the influence is clearly heard in his music, which at times reminds me of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov at their best while always maintaining his own unique musical language.
These selections, recorded between 1993 and 1994 and culled from three previous Naxos CDs [Khachaturian: Spartacus (Suites Nos. 1-3), Khachaturian: Gayanne Suites Nos. 1-3, Khachaturian: Spartacus Suite No. 4; Maquerade; Circus; Dance Suite], sound excellent and Andre Anichanov has a wonderful feel for this music which is reflected in his sympathetic conducting of the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra. For me this set trumps the Yuri Temirkanov (with the RPO on EMI) [Khachaturian: Gayaneh & Spartacus Suites] recording which is enjoyable but short on material (only 51 minutes): it contains nothing from "Masquerade" and omits the must-hear "Gayane's Adagio". The "Masquerade" suite conducted by Kiril Kondrashin on RCA Living Stereo [Khachaturian: Masquerade Suite; Kabalevsky: The Comedians; Tchaikovsky: Capriccio Italien; Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol / Kondrashin] is an excellent alternative for those selections but that is the only Khachaturian you will get on that disc: the balance consists of Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien", Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol" (both recorded better elsewhere) and Kabalevky's suite from "The Comediens".
This is a great sampler recording for those new to the composer and those more familiar looking for a generously-filled disc of highlights.