Khachaturian was a late starter in music and largely self-taught. Like Prokofiev and Shostakovich, he burst on the Soviet music scene while still a student but, unlike his precocious confreres, he was already well into his thirties. His "Piano Concerto", one of the two or three works that brought him to public notice, was written in 1936 and premiered on July 12, 1937, the year he completed his studies at the Conservatory.
Prokofiev described his " Piano Concerto No.1" as his first "more or less mature composition, both with regard to the conception and its fulfillment." It was begun in 1911 as a brief one-movement showcase for himself but, by its completion the following year, it had grown into a considerably more ambitious project. He played it for the first time on July 25, 1912 at the Moscow People's House, with an orchestra conducted by Konstantin Solomonovich Saradzhev and again in August at an outdoor concert in Pavlovsk, an eighteenth century palace and park near St. Petersburg. The results, both times, were sensational.
The Shostakovich "Second Piano Concerto" had its first performance in Moscow on May 10, 1957. His son Maxim, who was 19, played the solo with Nikolai Anosov conducting the U.S.S.R. State Symphony. On January 2, 1958, Leonard Bernstein gave the American premiere, playing and conducting the New York Philharmonic. American commentators seemed to treat the work as if it were some kind of children's music but Maxim was hardly a child and sometimes the fun house romp is almost scary. Is this simply high spirits, high jinks and good, ol' socialist optimism? Or is there something else going on? There's really no way to tell for sure. Maybe it doesn't matter and that's just the fun of it. A Russian concerto, certainly, but of a very different kind.