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Piano Concerto (1961 rev 1974)
Heroic Ballade (1949)
Nocturne (1988?)
Armen Babakhanian (piano)
Armenian PO/Loris Tjeknavorian
rec Yerevan, March 1996.
ASV CD DCA 984 [57.56]
 Amazon UK  

Various works of Tjeknavorian appeared on Unicorn LPs in the 1970s when that label was busy cutting out for itself a specialist niche with Ole Schmidt's Nielsen, Saul and David, Horenstein's Mahler 3 and 6, various Hovhaness symphonies, Herrmann film and concert music and rare Barber and Kabalevsky.

Tjeknavorian has recorded as a conductor, widely, at one time with a complete Borodin box on RCA (regrettably unissued on CD) and his Khachaturyan orchestral cycle is well and truly established on ASV.

I dimly recall Tjeknavorian as a composer of a ballet Simorgh which impressed favourably. There were other things but I have not tracked them down. A descendant of the nineteenth century virtuoso keyboard 'eagles' the piano concerto was written while a student in Vienna and premiered in Teheran in 1962 and revised (and shortened) during the early 1970s.

The first movement's 'hammer storm' has a Bartokian vehemence contrasted with a dewy summer nights quiescence of the type you find in the contemplative episodes in Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. The central movement is cool and placid. The aggressive pesante finale has the scorching percussive energy of the Khachaturyan piano concerto blended with elements of Bernstein and Copland. There is a succulently reflective central episode before the scorching hailstorm returns. Babakhanian turns in a glittering performance bringing out the links with Totentanz and Prokofiev.

Ates Orga delivers his usual well written notes. Would that he would be more active in this field. His technical descriptions of the music will leave most of us cold but these are, anyway, kept to the minimum.

Babadzhanian is, with Mirzoyan and Arutunian, of the generation succeeding Khachaturyan. His Heroic Ballade has a slow Hungarian twist in the tune (as well as a touch of Sheherazade), Rachmaninovian tear-dampened heroism. and Tchaikovskian dash. If this music was written in a mood of cultural compliance this must be no obstacle to enjoyment. The big tune (2.26) is given the full quota sentimental treatment. The work has a genuinely joyful 'strut'. It ends almost visually in an analogue of Hollywood among the sand dunes with Bolero-like convulsions (a touch or two of bombast, perhaps) and the gamin levity of Colas Breugnon.

An Armenian nocturne is usually something to be reckoned with but Babadzhanian's has less to do with mountains air than with exclusive hotel bars, a suggestion of tango, Hollywood's dripping sheen and a large overlay of Mantovani's cascading strings. Pass.

On the unblushingly populist strengths of the Ballade I want to hear more Babadzhanian. Will ASV give us the wartime piano concerto, the 1949 violin concerto and the 1960s cello concerto? Is this also the moment to renew my plea for Ivan Dzerzhinsky's two piano concertos, Kapustin's five piano concertos and Yuri Shaporin's symphony?

A recommendable disc for the sweeter tooth in the case of Babdzhanian and for the more fastidious listener in the case of the very exciting Tjeknavorian concerto.

Great recording and fine performances.

Rob Barnett

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