Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Armenian Suite (1937)
Symphony No. 2 Psalms (1947, 1964)
Lili Chookasian (contralto)
Utah SO/Varujan Kojian
rec 1981? PHOENIX PHCD 112 [38.14]

This disc represents rather short value in playing time but the music is undeniably attractive and well worth your precious ear-time.

Yardumian was effectively composer in residence with the Philadelphia during the 1950s and 1960s. An exotic name doubtless helped but in fairness Ormandy seems to have been very taken with the music and I can appreciate why.

In the seven movement suite we have a counterpart to Borodin's Polovtsian Dances. The movements are postage stamp sized - the largest (and last) being the 4 minute finale. In this Suite the composer encompasses the ceremonial (the carolling brass choirs on tracks 1 and 7 passingly recall Hovhaness), the lone piper in the wilderness (Song and Finale), a lullaby that works in Fauré-like magic, cheeky, bold, tinselly and eager round dances (Dance I and II) and an Interlude that might just have escaped from Barber's Adagio.

By contrast the symphony is, as anticipated, a more complex effort. The colour and drama persists but the musical paragraphs are longer. The work has a dislocated history with the second of the two movements written more than a decade after the first. The first was premiered in the 1950s and existed as Psalm 130 for tenor and orchestra (Vittorio Giannini wrote a major piece for cello and orchestra inspired by this psalm) and then had added to it a substantial movement lasting more than twice as long as the first. Contrary to the impression given by Mary Kinder Loiselle's otherwise helpfully full notes, the two movements are reasonably in style with each other with little easily perceptible difference in idiom.

The Symphony is, in effect, a richly orchestrated song-cycle taking the sinewy warmth of Ernest Bloch's writing and adding to it a melodic memorability for which Bloch often struggled. The recording leans into clamminess but is very good in the turbulent Biblical climaxes. Hanson and Vaughan Williams might be cited as stylistic 'doubles' with, this time, little, if any, of the brand of exotic mysticism you find in Hovhaness. The trombone theme seems on the edge of launching into the 'call to arms' from Holst's Perfect Fool but saves itself just in time. Chookasian's voice is operatically luxurious, damask rich and tends to cloak words (which are in any event given, in full, in the insert). I wonder if Ormandy's preference for a contralto voice was the best option. A baritone (the right one!) might have given greater clarity. The music strikes some well defined dramatic attitudes along the way but is a work of evident sincerity which generally avoids the obvious. The tender and movingly quiet ending bespeaks a composer with no shortage of artistic valour.

The first symphony was recorded by the Bournemouth SO in the 1970s with Anshel Brusilow. It is a pity that this could not have been added to the disc. There are other Yardumian works which currently languish in various archives. After hearing this fine work I hope that someone will revive these:
Piano concerto (RCA LSC-3243 coupled with the Mennin Piano Concerto - the latter reissued on CRI);
Piano sonata (EMI SLS-868/72 in a 5 LP set by John Ogdon also including Dutilleux's piano sonata and piano music by George Lloyd);
Preludes 1-2 (on Musical Heritage Society MHS-4110 LP c/w Beglarian For Children and pieces by Hovhaness and Tjeknavorian);
Cantus Animae and Symphony No. 1 on EMI EMD-5527);
Symphonies 1 and 2 plus Chorale Prelude on Columbia ML-6259 LP);
Violin concerto (Columbia ML-4991 LP plus Armenian Suite and Desolate City).

A strong recommendation for the music. It is only a shame that more was not available. I urgently recommend that you explore this disc.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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