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Eduard MIRZOYAN (1921-2012)
Cello Sonata (1968) [18.44]
Vache SHARAFYAN (b.1966)
Between a dream and awakening
for saxophone and cello (2012) [9.14]
On Wings of Hymns (Rejoice, Holy Temple [8.40] Where are you, my mother [6.58] Open for us, Lord (5.55] Glory Holy Father [5.26]) (2005-6) [26.58]
Suren Bagratuni (cello); Deborah Moriarty (piano); James Forger (saxophone); Marta Bagratuni (cello and voice)
rec. Blue Griffin’s Studio, “The Ballroom”, Lansing, Michigan, February 2013

What I don’t know about Armenian 20th century chamber music can be written about in lots of books … and possibly has been. This CD featuring chamber music for cello in various combinations is my first encounter with these two composers.

Eduard Mirzoyan’s Sonata for Cello and Piano is dedicated is Mstislav Rostropovich. Any work with his name attached is worthy of attention even if the composer is new to you. According to Lilit Yepremian’s enclosed notes the great cellist said of this work “it has lots of heart and mastery invested in it”. It is at core, I would submit, a late romantic, or post-romantic sonata but with hard edges. There are three movements, the first starts with massive chords and works itself into an Allegro moderato which is always on the edge of intensity. The slow movement often sings but is searching and lonely and seems to use six notes from the Dies Irae plainchant. The notes however offer us no musical descriptions so it might just be a chance coincidence. The third is a wild Allegro in which the cello is enticed away from its comfort zone to use its extremities in a thudding motoric rhythms common to both faster sections. Mirzoyan has been described as “The Patriarch of Armenian Music”.
It seems that Mirzoyan was a great guide to younger composers including, for example, his pupil Vache Sharafyan. Between a dream and awakening explores, with the unusual combination of saxophone and cello, the world of dream imagery which lingers into the time of waking. As the composer says, these two elements are represented by “bow and strings verses wind and air”. He is concerned also about “travelling between the state of being awake and the state of dreaming”. Sharafyan now lives and works in Jerusalem. In this work the saxophone, which blends and works superbly with the cello, sounds not unlike the klezmer clarinet. Bagratuni and Forger, who commissioned the piece, play it beautifully and make it sound impressively moving.
On the Wings of Hymns begins sounding like Messiaen in its clangourous piano writing. The hymns in question are each Armenian, monadic and called Sharakans. Their discovery, says the composer in his already quoted notes, “means seeing the future. When opening the hidden in the ancient we are becoming a bridge between past and future.”
The first movement, ‘Be delighted Holy Church’, is a melody by Sahak Dzoroporetsi (677-703) and commemorates the founding of the Armenian Church. It is still sung on Feast days dedicated to the Holy Etchmiadzin which is the mother church of the country. Some consider it the oldest cathedral in the world. The movement is slow and probing. The second movement ‘Where are you my Mother’ comes from the Good Friday liturgy and has a simple modal melody crossed by tone clusters and bi-tonal harmonies. The texts on which these movements are based is printed. Again the speed is slow, as it is for the third and fourth movements, beginning with “Bats mez Ter”- ‘Open for us, Lord’. The melody is again Seventh Century (by Mekhitar Airivanetsi) and is “one of the masterpieces of the Armenian Sacred Hymns”. It is certainly very passionate and emotional. Sharafyan treats it with great respect and here leaves it to two cellists to tangle with. The weeping, almost reproachful but highly meditative mood continues. In Armenian the fourth section is entitled “Amen, Hayr Surb”, translated here as ‘Glory, Holy Father’. The soaring soprano line comes as quite a surprise being added to the two contrapuntal cellos. These two movements date from 2006, the first two from 2005; perhaps the composer thought of the work as divided into two. The notes do not mention this or the voice or, oddly enough, supply the text.
This last work is dedicated to Suren Bagratuni and one would imagine is played just as the composer intended. The recording is mostly unproblematic but the piano sound in the Mirzoyan is somewhat boxy.
One for the inquisitive minded.

Gary Higginson