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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

 

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Blooming Sounds: Works for Unaccompanied Violin
Vache SHARAFYAN (b.1966)

Blooming sounds (2004) [8:59] 4
Adam KHOUDOYAN (1921-2000)

Sonata (1980) [8:29] 2
Augusta Read THOMAS (b.1964)

Pulsar (2004) [5:37] 2
Incantation (1995) [5:52] 5
Leif SEGERSTAM (b.1944)

Why Yes or No (1975) [10:21] 2
David FELDER (b.1953)

Another Face (1987) [13:11] 1
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)

Sonata, Op.31, No.2 (1924) [13:13] 3
Movses Pogossian (violin)
rec. Lippes Concert Hall, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, 14 January 2003 1; 10 February 2004 2; 8 March 2004 3; 25 September 2004 4; 21 February 2005 5
ALBANY TROY810 [65:46]

 

In an article on Hindemith, published in 1941 in the New York Herald Tribune, Virgil Thomson offered the judgement that Hindemith’s music "is both mountainous and mouselike. The volume of it is enormous; its expressive content is minute and not easy to catch … It is obviously both competent and serious. It is dogmatic and forceful and honest and completely without charm. It is as German as anything could be and farther removed from the Viennese spirit than any music could be that wasn’t the work of a German from the Lutheran North. It has no warmth, no psychological understanding, no gentleness, no gemütlichkeit, and no sex appeal. It hasn’t even the smooth surface tension of systematic atonality. It is neither humane nor stylish, though it does have a kind of style, a style rather like that of some ponderously monumental and not wholly incommodious railway station". I wonder if Thomson ever heard the Sonata for Solo Violin, recorded here by Movses Pogossian?

I can’t speak for its sex appeal, but the sonata certainly has plenty going for it in terms of lyrical expressiveness and, indeed, psychological understanding; it strikes me as a profoundly ‘humane’ piece. It has, by turns gracility (especially in the first movement) and angularity (in the second movement); there is as much humour as ‘monumentality’ in its third movement, played entirely pizzicato; its final movement is a set of variations on Mozart’s song Komm, Lieber Mai (K596), of which Pogossian writes in his booklet notes, as if answering Thomson, "each of the five charming variations has its distinct character", observing, correctly, that "the last variation winds its way up through some delicious harmonic modulations, and leads to a surprising and elegant conclusion". No railway stations here, incommodious or otherwise – though, ironically enough, the work is said to have been written in a single day during a train journey!

Pogossian is a persuasive advocate for the virtues of Hindemith’s sonata; its considerable technical demands evidently present him with no problems and, quite without any sense of forcing the issue, he brings out both its lyrical qualities and its sophisticated structure.

Hindemith’s sonata belongs to a period some fifty years or more earlier than that to which its companions on this CD belong. Himself Armenian in origin, Pogossian begins his programme with works by two fellow Armenians. Vache Sharafyan’s name will perhaps be familiar from his contributions to Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. Blooming Sounds is an eclectic synthesis of idioms old and new, eastern and western, moving through a sequence of moods and tempos and rich in instrumental effects; in Pogossian’s hands there is a convincing unity to the results. Adam Khoudoyan’s Sonata is a single movement work, but falls into six distinct sections. For the most part it is in a rather more traditional – at times almost romantic - idiom than Sharafyan’s Blooming Sounds and its use of dynamic contrast is highly effective. Pogossian plays it with conviction and technical certainty.

The American Augusta Read Thomas is perhaps less well-known in Britain than she should be, although her work has been conducted by such luminaries as Barenboim, Boulez and Eschenbach, with orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony and the LSO. Pulsar was commissioned by the BBC and the Royal Philharmonic Society and premiered in London by Ilya Gringolts; Movses Pogossian gave the American premiere in Buffalo, New York. It is a densely written piece characterised by long, spinning lines and eloquent silences; Incantation is a work of unironic beauty and tender grace, attractively shaped and played ravishingly, and quite without sentimentality, by Pogossian.

Leif Segerstam is probably still better known as a conductor than a composer. The notes he provides for the booklet are characteristically entertaining, though it can’t really be said that they throw an awful lot of light on the music. One sentence of over a hundred and fifty words deserves reproduction at length, but I’ll settle instead for quoting a few (?) words about "the challenging experience-phenomenology of decision-making mechanisms motivating the movements in the world of possibilities of musical material accessible at that stage of my development as a natural open-minded multi-musical talent holding the beloved extension of tentacles (= the violin) planted as close as possible to the source for the thought which emerged when you checked the points of movements with simple yes or no question before taking the decision finalizing the notation of these points in the broad NNNNOOOOOOWWW…". Indeed. Although Why Yes or Now has something of the same quality, a kind of musical stream of consciousness, it is actually rather easier to follow than Segerstam’s prose. Fertility of ideas has never been a problem for Segerstam – who has composed some 128 symphonies! – and there are plenty in evidence here.

In Another Face, David Felder responds to one of the works of the Japanese novelist, Kobo Abe, published in English as The Face of Another. How the composition works is well described by the composer; it "proposes small musical modules juxtaposed in coded sequences as the small building blocks contained with extended lines. Each of the small modules consists of a pair – two pitches and two distinct rhythmic values, which are repeated locally (for memory’s sake), and transformed formally through four passes through the sequence". Alongside these systematically handled materials – and in a sense emerging from them – is a more lyrical impulse which effects both a metamorphosis and a kind of reconciliation. Technically very demanding for the player and hard – but rewarding – listening, Another Face is a striking piece given a fine performance by Pogossian.

An excellent CD of (mostly) contemporary pieces for solo violin, grounded, as it were, in a performance of one of Hindemith’s sonatas for solo violin, all played with utter technical assurance and plenty of feeling.

Glyn Pursglove

 



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