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Armenian String Music - From Classic to Modern
Alexander HAROUTUNIAN (b.1920)

Sinfonietta for Strings (1966)
Loris TJEKNAVORIAN (b.1937)

Serenade Lake Van Suite (1960?)
Edvard MIRZOYAN (b.1921) arr. Loris TJEKNAVORIAN

String Quartet - Theme and Variations (1947)
Loris TJEKNAVORIAN (b.1937)

Erebouni Sinfonietta for twelve solo strings (1968)
Armenian String Virtuosi/Loris Tjeknavorian
Rec. 2002. DDD

These are works and possibly composers you may never have heard of before. The disc is however fully worth the labour entailed in tracking down a supplier.

You might well remember the composer-conductor Loris Tjeknavorian. His recordings of his own music and of Russian exotica as well as the music of his homeland are ASV-Sanctuary staples. His Khachaturian is to the manner born; he is not afraid of colour - even gaudy colour when called for. Beyond the ASV discs you may recall a previous and much missed generation of RCA (now BMG) recordings. Very few of these have reappeared but outstanding from the late 1970s into the 1980s were LPs of the complete orchestral works of Borodin, symphonies 1, 2, 4 and 5 of Sibelius, the last three numbered symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Khachaturyan’s Gayaneh (a pity he never got around to a truly complete Spartacus), Unicorn issued two LPs - one of his ballet Simorgh using original Iranian folk instruments; the other of his First Symphony.

Here Tjeknavorian on his own label provides a stimulating and superbly executed and recorded collection of unfamiliar music for string orchestra.

Both Haroutunian and Mirzoyan are from the generation prior to Tjeknavorian. Haroutunian’s Sinfonietta is clear-eyed, romantic and nationalistic. When playful the music parallels Tippett and Britten in its quick step busily carefree ebullience. When pensive it leans on an extremely attractive crooning sadness - a touch of Prokofiev here. The intermezzo pizzicato is fanciful with yearning soulful melody counterpointing pizzicato. Mirzoyan was head of the Union of Armenian Composers 1956-1994. He writes in sustained melodic lines and his music carries the impress of long-breathed musical thought. Variation 3 is breathlessly engorged with activity while the Fourth is touched with the masterly dreaminess of Khachaturian although Mirzoyan’s music is deeper than that of his compatriot. The finale is strongly flavoured and ruthlessly active subsiding into a grave Purcell-like climax rising in majestic languor. The quartet is played in Tjeknavorian’s arrangement for chamber string orchestra.

Tjeknavorian’s own seven movement serenade Lake Van Suite is hoarse, speedy, rhapsodic, dynamic and acidic. Along the way we meet a nostalgic waltz and lyric song. There is also a sentimental serenade rather like the Finzi Introit. In all of these pieces solo lines float free. At times the writing is reminiscent of a cross between Holst’s St Paul Suite and a Hovhaness symphony. Full hearted and imaginative Tjeknavorian also reaches grasps the delirium of excitement also heard in Tippett’s Concerto for Double String orchestra. The disc ends with Tjeknavorian’s Erebouni which was written for the 2750th anniversary of the city of Erebouni-Yerevan. The music is based on a melody by Edgar Hovhanessian. The movements are Erebouni and the destruction of the city; Centuries of desolation; Rebuilding of the new capital city Yerevan. This work is laid out for 12 solo strings. Full capital is made of these more intimate textures. The music is much more complex and the composer resorts to buzzing activity, stridulation and caustic textures which bring it close to the avant-garde works of Brian Ferneyhough and the more ‘far out’ Tippett. The Centuries of desolation are limned in a long cello solo over cycling whisper-level harmonics; an affecting effect superbly calculated and carried off and matched by the music for the Largo section in which the long line is taken by the solo violin. This certainly suggests the alien otherworldliness of a city that makes callow youths of the world’s other cities. A similar effect is carried off by Hovhaness in his piece for multi-tracked flute The Spirit of Ink (Crystal CD). The Sinfonietta ends with the rebuilding of the city now known as Yerevan. This work comes as a bit of a shock when preceded by three other works written resourcefully but squarely within the surge and song of the great string tradition.

This is a disc for connoisseurs of string music; a disc to set beside such ikons of the recorded sound and vision as Barbirolli’s Introduction and Allegro (EMI Classics), Bernstein’s Schuman Fifth Symphony, Boult’s Howells’ Elegy and Marriner’s Corelli Fantasia.

Rob Barnett


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