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Alexander ARUTIUNIAN(b. 1920)
Violin Concerto Armenia 88 (1988) [23:09]
Peteris VASKS (b. 1946)

Violin Concerto Distant Light (1997) [28:41]
Mikhail BRONNER (b. 1951?)

Violin Concerto Heaven's Gates (2001) [20:16]
Levon Ambartsumian (violin)
ARCO Chamber Orchestra/Lewis Nielson
rec. Hugh Hodgson Hall, University of Georgia Performing Arts Center, Athens, Georgia, USA. DDD
PHOENIX PHCD 153 [72:06]


Three violin concertos written during the last two decades. All three are linked by their common though varyingly-slanted embrace of tonality.

Arutiunian is a prolific Armenian-born composer with a Arnold-like reputation for profuse production of concertos. Here is his four movement 1988 Violin Concerto written in response to the Spitak earthquake of that year. Arutiunian sheds his tears through a carefully ordered mesh: part Baroque - part Classical. There is little of the nationalistic flavour we came to expect from Khachaturian. This is not music of obvious torment. Instead the approach is spiritual, serious, even stern on occasions, emotional but dignified, never surrendering to Tchaikovskian 'excess'. At various times I thought of Vaughan Williams (Flos Campi and the Violin Concerto), Vivaldi (Four Seasons), Corelli, Schnittke (in the finale) and even Elgar in the more sentimental musings of the first two movements. Things become more up-tempo in the skittering finale complete with its use of pizzicato.

Vasks' Violin Concerto has been recorded at least three times. It is in a single andante movement of approaching half an hour duration. Vasks' idiom has a crepuscular spirituality with the violin trilling off into the heights. The reference points are Berg, Kancheli and Penderecki. The music is deeply serious, deeply probing and Ambartsumiam is fully in touch with this. The central section from about 10:00 onwards is much more animated with questing cadenza-like decoration (Bach Partitas and Sonatas) and dancing activity of the vibrant temple devotional type adopted in many of Hovhaness's works. For the final third of the work the music gravitates to the pilgrimage of spirituality which dominated the opening. This slow-fast-slow triptychal approach can be compared with a small band of other such concertos (Moeran and Delius violin concertos) though neither of my examples has the profound unblinking gravitas of the Vasks which bids farewell with a trilling ascent into a silent firmament.

Mikhail Bronner graduated from the Moscow Conservatory having studied with Tikhon Khrennikov. His twenty minute concerto is dedicated to Ambartsumian. This is a softer and more sentimental work than the Vasks. Bronner's style parallels that of Prokofiev in his early romantic phase. The instrument and orchestra sing and tremble; they are unafraid of melody and direct speech. The tempo marking for this movement is, most appropriately, cantabile. The music has a new-minted innocence - a tenderly amorous song without erotic tension and an unblushing sentimental proclivity. We'll leave to one side that the end of the Bronner is surely a tribute to the Vasks Concerto; it too trills off into the stratosphere.

Intriguingly this disc documents three violin concertos all of which are rooted in tonality. Within that broad highway the Vasks is the most original and prone to use of avant-garde technique, the Arutiunian the most emotionally ordered and controlled and the Bronner unashamed of a heart worn prominently on the sleeve.

The notes are reasonably good on the composers but, except in one case, have little to say about the concertos.

This is a good collection and will suit the listener who would like to explore rather than place all their eggs in one basket. It is the only way to hear the Bronner but the Arutiunian can be had on Chandos (a single composer collection). The Vasks concerto can be had on Warner and on Bis.

Rob Barnett


see also review by Tim Mahon

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