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Eduard Ivanovich BAGDASARIAN (1922-1987)
Twenty-Four Preludes (1958)* [39:46]
Rhapsody in B minor (version for violin and piano) [12:45]
Nocturne in A minor [4:47]
Mikael Ayrapetyan (piano), Vladimir Sergeev (violin)
rec. Great Concert Hall of the Moscow State University of Culture and Arts, Moscow, Russia, 6-7 October 2012
*World première recording GRAND PIANO GP664 [57:18]
Remember how people predicted that with the new millennium computers would crash and a modern hell would ensue with nothing we have got used to relying on working. There were others who, not so long ago, were predicting the demise of recorded music particularly as a result of many record companies continuing to stick solely to the core repertoire setting their faces against trying new and uncharted musical territory. In the UK it seems to me to be a similar situation with those pubs that are controlled by brewer companies. They sell the same old swill thereby excluding themselves from the huge and ever-growing number of real ale aficionados and then bemoan the fact that so many pubs close every week. It’s not rocket science to find out who is doing the selling and why and then trying to take a leaf out of their book.
In the realm of recorded music Naxos has led the way from its inception by seeking out new repertoire. In the process it has carved out an enviable slice of the market as well as introducing the listener to composers and music they might never have come across otherwise. They do this in more genres than just classical — look at their jazz catalogue for example. In March 2012 they set up Grand Piano to explore music for piano by a number of little known composers. They thereby did those composers and the music-lover an almost unrivalled service. Thankfully other labels have emerged as a result and have followed suit.
The above may seem an oblique way of beginning a review but I think it is worth stating. I for one have been a beneficiary of this trend. While it’s easy to criticise I do like to give credit where it’s due as it is here. In the two and a half years since its launch Grand Piano has released over fifty recordings by a whole range of little known or completely unknown composers. They're all worth getting to know and this disc is a case in point.
Bagdasarian was an Armenian composer who, like fellow Armenians Khachaturian and Arutiunian enjoyed weaving native folk music into his compositions. This is apparent in many of the little miniatures that form his 24 Preludes. They are recorded here for the first time and cover all the major and minor keys. He was in good company since others who have written in all the keys include J.S. Bach, Chopin, Charles-Valentin Alkan, Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Hindemith and Shostakovich. However, giving so many of his preludes an Armenian flavour makes them unique and extremely listenable. It's the same particularly attractive ‘oriental’ influence that caused Khachaturian’s music for his ballet Spartacus to be so successful. This in turn led to its place in Britain’s collective memory through the 1970s UK TV series The Onedin Line. I wholeheartedly agree with Malcolm MacDonald who wrote the valuable booklet notes when he says that each of these pieces is worthy of comment. I pick out a few for specific mention including no.14 whose central section echoes Ravel and the last and longest which embodies the most overt recalling of Armenian song with its delectably plaintive nature.
Bagdasarian’s Rhapsody for violin and piano is altogether more expansive. It also exists in a version for violin and orchestra which may then sport its alternative title Armenian Rhapsody. As that title suggests, this work is also saturated in Armenian tunes which the violin is particularly adept in evoking especially when it’s called upon to point up the pensive.
The final work here is the short Nocturne in A major which removes the listener from Armenia, though not without some echoes. It finds itself more in line with, as MacDonald says, “the great tradition of the Russian Adagio” which accounts for its popularity. No doubt it finds its winning way into many a violinist’s pool of encore material.
This was an altogether fascinating introduction to a composer who is almost unknown outside his native country. On the strength of this disc he deserves a great deal more exposure which this release will, I hope, help achieve. The sound is crisp and clear and the playing very good indeed.