Sunday 18 October 2015

Sergey Khachatryan and Lusine Khachatryan provide a fine tribute to the composers of their homeland on a new disc for Naïve entitled My Armenia

As well as being solo performers, violinist Sergey Khachatryan (violin) and pianist Lusine Khachatryan (piano)  regularly perform as a duo and have made recordings for EMI and Naïve.

Their latest disc for Naïve  entitled My Armenia features the works of five Armenian composers, Komitas Vardapet, Eduard Bagdasaryan, Edvard Mirzoyan, Aram Khachaturian and Arno Babadjanian of whom only Khachaturian is likely to be known to many.

Komitas Vardapet’s (1869-1935) was an Armenian priest, musicologist, composer, arranger, singer, and choirmaster and is considered the founder of the Armenian national school of music. He is recognized as one of the pioneers of ethnomusicology. His Krunk (The Crane) is based on a song from the Middle Ages.  Pianist, Lusine Khachatryan opens with a theme that has a distinctly Armenian flavour before violinist, Sergey Khachatryan joins in this heartfelt, beautifully inflected melody that rises in passion part way, both performers bring much sensitivity and intuitive feeling.

Vardapet’s Tsirani Tsar (The Apricot Tree) opens with rolling chords before the violin joins in a passionate theme. Sergey Khachatryan soon takes a slow and melancholy pace with some exquisite high notes and textures against a gentle piano accompaniment exquisitely played by Lusine Khachatryan. There are some very fine lightly bowed textures before the quiet end.  

Vardapet’s Seven Folk Dances (for piano solo) opens with Manushaki, full of lovely Armenian inflections with this pianist picking up on all the little rhythmic variations. Yerangi is a hesitant, rhythmically unstable dance where this pianist finds many subtle details. Unabi has more of a flow yet with little inflections that pull on the music. Marali brings some atmospheric moments as this rhythmically faltering dance progresses, Lusine Khachatryan revealing some beautifully subtle little details. This pianist brings a brightness and clarity Shushiki to this lovely little dance, the opening passages ringing out again between moments of quieter reflection. In Het u Aradj (Back and Forth) Khachatryan achieves a fine flow with an ear catching melody, bringing a jewel like clarity to many passages. The final work in this set of dances is Shoror which opens slowly, the pianist’s left hand adding a distinctive harmony to the theme which soon picks up in tempo for a really fine dance tune. The dance theme broadens across the keyboard as a brighter, livelier passage arrives then quietens a while before dancing lightly to the coda.

The final work by Komitas Vardapet is Garun-a (It is spring) for piano solo, possibly the loveliest piece by this composer on this disc. It has a gentle, rippling theme that develops beautifully, often with hints of Debussy, yet wholly Armenian in its overall feel. It rises through some fine broader passages before slowing and quietening for a hushed coda. This is a quite lovely piece.

Eduard Bagdasaryan (1922-1987) was born in Yerevan, Armenia, coincidentally the birthplace of both the performers on this disc. He graduated from the Yerevan State Conservatory in piano and composition before further study in Moscow. Pianist Lusine Khachatryan quietly and gently opens Bagdasaryan’s Rhapsody slowly revealing a theme full of Armenian flavour. The violin of Sergey Khachatryan suddenly and vibrantly enters adding a passion to the theme as it rises up. There are some fine broad passages for piano as well as gentler, heartfelt passages for violin where the flow and melody of Khachaturian is recalled. Fast and furious piano phrases herald a fast and dynamic passage to which the violin joins with some particularly fine playing from both these artists. There are beautifully flowing melodic passages before the music picks up a lively rhythmic stance before leading to a gentle coda.

The piano and violin lead forward in another fine melody in Bagdasaryan’s Nocturne, leading through moments of restrained beauty before rising in passion. The music develops a lovely flow with Sergey Khachatryan bringing a fine romantic violin tone to a hushed coda. This is a most appealing work.

Edvard Mirzoyan (1921-2012) studied at the Komitas State Conservatory before also going to Moscow.  He was later elected president of the Armenian Composers’ Union and was a professor of composition at the Komitas State Conservatory.  

After a gentle piano opening to Mirzoyan’s Introduction and Perpetuum Mobile the violin joins, gently weaving a fine theme before rising to some fine passages. If there are hints of Khachaturian it may well be simply his use of Armenian themes. There are quiet, gentler moments before the music rises in a terrific passage where the ancient plainchant Dies Irae can be heard before the Perpetuum Mobile arrives. There are passages of varying tempi and dynamics with the piano more clearly revealing the Dies Irae before a decisive coda.

Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) is, of course, the best known composer to feature here. Lusine Khachatryan opens Poem-song slowly before the violin enters with the poignant melody that Sergey Khachatryan weaves around a fine piano accompaniment. He brings some exquisite violin textures before the music broadens with a rather rhapsodic passage through more incisive moments as the piece is developed, leading to a gentle passage with some lovely hushed violin and piano textures.

Khachaturian’s 1942 ballet Gayaneh is best known for its Sabre Dance which is one of two dances from ballet performed here. First it is Usundara (arr. by M. Fichtenholz) that these two artists bring us, a gentle little dance theme that develops through some lovely variations with varying textures and those distinctive little Khachaturian turns at the end of phrases.  

These two fine performers bring a scintillating performance of The Sabre Dance bringing many individual touches and a great sense of freedom with absolutely first rate playing.

The composer and pianist Arno Babadjanian (1921-1983) was also born in Yerevan, Armenia. It was at the suggestion of Khachaturian he should study music. He entered the Yerevan State Musical Conservatory at the age of seven before continuing his studies in Moscow with Vissarion Shebalin. He later returned to Yerevan, where he taught at the conservatory.

His Six Pictures for piano solo open with Improvisation which brings three rising scales before slowly developing the theme. The music later increases in tempo but soon slows as the theme is gently taken to the sudden coda. Folk Dance brings a fast moving, rather dissonant theme before Toccatina that has a fast, somewhat riotous theme full of complex rollicking passages, brilliantly played here by Lusine Khachatryan. There are some tremendously difficult passages but they never lose their melodic centre.

Intermezzo slowly finds its way ahead with its fragmentary theme before Choral opens slowly and mournfully with rich lower chords, rising slowly and laboriously but falling back to lead quietly and gently to a hushed coda. Sassoun Dance has a lovely sprung, insistent theme that develops and rises inexorably to the dynamic coda.  

Babadjanian is the least obviously nationalistic of these composers with his more forward looking style yet throughout one can still hear an Armenian accent to the music. 

Sergey Khachatryan and Lusine Khachatryan provide a fine tribute to the composers of their homeland. Overall the recordings here are very good though occasionally the recording can favour the upper frequencies. There are informative booklet notes though the English translation is a little clumsy and tends to change from past tense to present. 

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