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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Piano Sonata [12:00]
Piano Rag Music [3:01]
Ragtime [4:28]
Tango [3:18]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Sonata No.1, Op.12 [15:06]
Arno BABAJANYAN (1921-1983)
Elegy [4:25]
Impromptu [3:10]
Dance of Vagharshapat [2:13]
Six Pictures [13:11]
Tigran MANSURYAN (b.1939)
Three Pieces (1970) [11:40]
Diana Gabrielyan (piano)
rec. Studio Odradek, Lawrence, Kansas, USA, 10-14 September 2013. DDD

Diana Gabrielyan captures the moods and colours right at the outset of this recording with some very expressive playing.

Stravinsky’s neo-classical Piano Sonata sounds almost expressionist in her hands. She manages to imbue the coolness and detachment I feel in this work with carefully and subtly placed dynamics and balancing of the parts, giving us even a sense of warmth in the colouring. I wonder if Stravinsky would have approved. She follows this with really convincing performances of Piano Rag Music, Ragtime and Tango, full of rhythmic zest, vitality and colour. Stravinsky’s works for piano usually take a back-seat to so much of his music, so it is good to have these comparatively less well-known works in such a good new recording.

Shostakovich’s Piano Sonata couldn’t be more different from the Stravinsky. Gabrielyan hurls herself into the work with passion and some ferocity, showing herself well able to cope with the virtuosic demands of the first movement. Written in 1926, the sonata is the young composer’s response to the Great War and it is characterised by much greater extremes of dissonance and violence than we are accustomed to in his music. There are, however, moments of calm and delicacy as well. The six short, contrasting movements are well varied in mood and colour and the Odradek engineers have captured the performance really well.

There are many highlights in the playing and recording. I will just mention the drama of the closing bars of the fourth movement, where the deep fortissimo unisons in the lowest register of the piano are spine-tingling in their power and depth. This performance is truly outstanding, a must-hear.

Again in totally different mood is Arno Babajanyan’s Elegy which follows. A simple and very tonal melody is treated in romantic fashion to a succession of variations in pianistic colour and harmony. In her short programme note, Diana Gabrielyan tells how this Armenian composer’s music is always close to her heart. She certainly wears her heart on her sleeve here. Babajanyan’s Impromptu was composed when he was only fifteen years of age. This is an attractive piece with a good central climax and is surely a great achievement for someone so young. Both these works provide a real foil to the Stravinsky and Shostakovich and the whole disc offers an example of fine programme building.

A similarly attractive piece is Dance of Vagharshapat which is followed by Babajanyan’s Six Pictures. Though composed using serialism, these nonetheless retain a sense of tradition as well as references to the characteristics and rhythms of Armenian folk music and dance. The six titles of the individual short pieces indicate their mood and styles. They include a lively and brilliant Toccatina and an elegiac, slow-moving Chorale. This employs the lower registers of the piano until the music strains to pull itself out of the depths only to sink back to a seemingly despairing conclusion. The Dance of the Sasun People is a fantastical whirlwind of spectacular colours and brilliance. Once again Gabrielyan displays her ability to capture the wide variety of moods and colours required.

The final composer on this recording is Tigran Mansuryan, represented here by Three Pieces dating from 1970. The serialism of these pieces seems to make for cold and austere music, especially following the other works. This is well- written music but lacking individuality.

I thought that the programme planning was excellent, except that I would not have placed the Mansuryan last, preferably somewhere in the middle, perhaps concluding with the works by Arno Babajanyan.

The performances and recordings are excellent and it is clear that Diana Gabrielyan will have a wonderful career and go right to the top of her chosen profession. She has already won many international competitions and played in prestigious venues. Odradek are to be congratulated for giving her and other young artists the opportunity to record. I look forward to hearing much more from this non-profit-making organisation. The recording of this recital is excellent and I wholeheartedly enjoyed the music and the performances.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Previous review: Steve Arloff