Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Alexander ARUTIUNIAN (b. 1920)
Concerto for violin and orchestra "Armenia 88" (1988) (23.10)
Pēteris VASKS (b. 1946)

Concerto for violin and orchestra "Distant Light" (1997) (28.41)
Mikhail BRONNER (b. 1952)

Concerto for violin and orchestra "Heaven’s Gate" (2001) (20.16)
Levon Ambartsumian (violin – and conductor in Arutiunian and Bronner)
The Arco Chamber Orchestra/Lewis Nielson (Vasks)
rec 2002 in Hugh Hodgson Hall, University of Georgia Performing Arts Center, Athens, Georgia
PHOENIX USA PHCD 153 [72.00]


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There is a liveliness about this music that is utterly engaging, while at the same time there is an extraordinarily soulful yearning quality that is enormously affecting. As a former violinist myself, I am a sucker for ‘new’ violin music – at least, new to me, that is – so I may legitimately be accused of some bias. Even taking that into account, however, I believe it impossible for any musically adventurous spirit not to be moved by the three concertos on this disk.

Arutiunian, whose justifiably well-known trumpet concerto is the only work of his I have known till now, is probably the most important Armenian composer of the twentieth century. This concerto is considered by many to be his masterpiece. Written in response to the devastating Spitak earthquake on 7th December 1988, it is a hauntingly wonderful piece of introspection, which, if Steven Spielberg had heard it, would have inspired at least one blockbuster of a movie. From the very first movement of the spirited Andante sostenuto to the aria-like quality of the main theme in the Adagio recitativo, all four movements have the capacity to grab the listener by the raw end of his or her emotions – and twist them. It is the sort of music one cannot listen to without a visceral reaction – love it or hate it; you’ll never forget it! I’m not as familiar as I would like to be with the idiom of Armenian art music. I suspect there is a lot of folk influence in this piece, which gives me a thirst to find out more. The concerto is a balanced mix of influences, from the Baroque through the Classical to the Romantic, all trapped in an Arutiunian-manufactured aural amber.

The single-movement concerto from Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks is an equally effective piece of emotive communication, but in a completely different way. At the outset I thought this was to be “yet another minimalist concerto”, but was quickly proven wrong. There are certainly whole sections of static music in the work, but there is also really powerful interaction between soloist and orchestra, and some of the thematic material reminds me of some of the works of Vasks’ Baltic neighbour Arvo Pärt in places. This concerto won the Latvian Grand Music Award in 1997 and it is easy to see why. Not only is it an accomplished work of a respected teacher, composer and pedagogue, it must also be deeply appealing to the Latvian national identity, in much the same way as Sibelius’ Finlandia appealed to an earlier generation of Nordic patriots. At not quite thirty minutes in length, this is scarcely a huge concerto in terms of endurance – but I should think both soloist and orchestra are utterly drained by the end, such is the emotional intensity of the music. Especially effective is the monolithic ‘arch’ structure, with the emotional climax being in the middle of the piece, following a slow build up from nothing and being followed by a gradual disappearance of the music towards a quiet catharsis. Really effective stuff!

Bronner’s concerto is utterly different in style, though in temperament it shares much with the other works on this disc. There is a mischievous quality to the rhythmic lyricism of the piece that owes much, I suspect, to the influence of his teacher and mentor Tikhon Khrennikov – there are certainly echoes of the latter’s own violin concerto and some of his ballet music. There is also great use of harmonics – difficult for the performer in such an exposed environment, especially when arpeggiated as they are here – but incredibly effective in painting an eerie but luminescent sound picture. It is a piece that deserves to be listened to again and again – and this copy will certainly see a lot of use!

Levon Ambartsumian plays a 1713 Stradivarius for the Arutiunian and Vasks concertos – and the clarity of tone and richness of voice is obvious in these recordings. But for the Bronner he has selected a much more robust, modern instrument by Boris Bratichev and this, more than anything else, convinces me that Ambartsumian knows whereof he speaks – or, rather, plays. His performances are clear-sighted and intuitive as well as committed and I shall be seeking more of his recordings if they can be found. I would be particularly interested in hearing him play baroque concerti, having listened to him communicate these post-modern pieces so effectively. A soloist to watch out for in the future – delivering three solid performances here before an obviously appreciative live audience.

A warmly recommended disk for unusual repertoire and strong, communicative performances.

Tim Mahon


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