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Armenian Rhapsody
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Concerto-Rhapsody, for cello and orchestra (1963) [25:52]
Suren ZAKARIAN (b.1956)
Monograph, for cello and chamber orchestra (1994) [17:16]
Vache ZARAFYAN (b.1966)
Suite, for cello and orchestra (2009) [22:24]
KOMITAS (Soghomon SOGHOMONYAN) (1869-1935)
Krunk ('Crane'), for duduk, cello and piano, arr. Vache Zarafyan [5:25]
Alexander Chaushian (cello)
Vache Zarafyan (piano)
Emmanuel Hovhannisyan (duduk)
Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra/Eduard Topchjan
rec. Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall, Yerevan, Armenia, April 2010. DDD
BIS-CD-1948 [71:56]

Experience Classicsonline

Anyone familiar with Khachaturian's music beyond the two famous ballet excerpts - the Sabre Dance and the so-called Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia - may well have come across one or other of the three Concerto-Rhapsodies which he wrote for different soloists in the 1960s. Premiered by Mstislav Rostropovich, the Concerto-Rhapsody is not quite on the same artistic plane as the Cello Concerto proper, and despite the regular fits of action, may strike the listener as meandering on first hearing. The second half of the work, however, is full of interest and populist Armenian colour, the last three minutes quite frantic, and the cello part from beginning to end is deceptively demanding, performed with lyrical suavity and commitment by Armenian cellist Alexander Chaushian, with fine support from Eduard Topchjan and the Armenian Philharmonic, setting the scene nicely for a fine programme of music that is both accessible and just a bit different.

A searing, soaring effusion by Chaushian's almost violin-like cello opens Suren Zakarian's Monograph, yet within a few minutes the writing is concentrated in the deep solo and ensemble strings, moving heavily along, almost despondent. This is a moving, atmospheric work that makes striking use of pianissimo dynamics and rests, punctuated towards the end by some brief reproaches from the ensemble, before the music fades away into despair and nothingness, with no sign of the "light at the end of the tunnel" suggested in the booklet notes.

Vache Zarafyan's Suite was originally written for solo viola and dedicated to Yuri Bashmet, but Zarafyan adapted and amended it to create this splendid work for cello and small string orchestra. In four movements, the Suite, though basically andante in character, has an irrepressibly optimistic feel about it, particularly in the short but sweet finale entitled Postero 'Die (The Next Day)', although the slow-dance-like nature of much of the writing frequently lends the work an exotic, almost Piazzollan air. An off-stage solo oboe puts in a surprise appearance in the rhapsodic first movement, adding to the pastoral, ethnic effect of Zarafyan's soulful music, expressively played once again by Chaushian.

Zarafyan's arrangement for the folk duduk, cello and piano of Krunk ('Crane', frequently encountered under its French title 'La Grue') by the father figure of Armenian art music, Komitas - who himself had used an old Armenian melody to set one of his own texts - seems a bit of an afterthought, tacked on for a bit of authentic exotic colour, but it does bring the CD to a wound-down kind of end, the musical equivalent of sunset on Mount Ararat as seen from Yerevan, perhaps.

Though relatively unfamiliar to western Europe, the Armenian Philharmonic is no Johnny-come-lately orchestra. Not far off a hundred years old, its previous artistic directors include Valery Gergiev, and the Orchestra made many recordings during the 1990s for ASV, as well as the Orchestra's own label, APO Productions. Predictably, Khachaturian's music featured heavily, but there were many discs of Russian composers as well as one of Berlioz and, demonstrating that nowhere is safe, a 4-CD set of "Broadway Medleys" and a 5-CD box-set of arrangements of "Beatles Favorites". The money may have been good, but the APO's considerable team talents are put to better use on this quality all-Armenian disc, skilfully conducted by Eduard Topchjan, who by this time had been their chief conductor for a decade.

Sound quality is good, the trilingual booklet notes detailed and informative. The psychedelic front cover image is by Armenian artists Henrik Siravian.

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