Armenian Piano Music
Komitas (Komitas VARDAPET) (1869-1935)
Six dances for piano (1916) [15:41]
Aleksandr SPENDIARIAN (Spendiarov) (1871-1928)
Crimean Sketches, Op.9 (1903) [10:00]
Arno BABADJANIAN (1921-1983)
Prelude (1947) [1:43]
Melody (1973) [2:09]
Humoresque (1972) [1:51]
Impromptu, ‘Exprompt’ (1936) [2:39]
Vagharshapat Dance (1947) [1:47]
Elegy (1978) [4:06]
Eduard ABRAMIAN (1923-1986)
From 24 Preludes (1948-1972) [10:15]
Eduard BAGDASARIAN (1922-1987)
From 24 Preludes (1951-1958) [8:11]
Robert AMIRKHANIAN (b.1939)
In Front of a Portrait (2009) [3:52]
Children's Images (2009) [8:21]
Spring Drops (2009) [5:15]
Mikael Ayrapetyan (piano)
rec. 2012, Grand Concert Hall of the Moscow State University of Culture and Arts, Moscow
NAXOS 8.573467 [75:51]

Recently someone criticised me for saying I had been pleased to be introduced to the music of Albania which I described as “...this little known corner of Europe...” implying I was being condescending. I fail to see how and I’ll risk it again by saying that it’s a privilege to be educated in the music of Armenia which, to me at least, is not well known.

The disc begins with six marvellously melodic dances for piano by priest composer Soghomon Georgi Soghomonian, known as Komitas who was, like Bartók, a great collector of native folksongs and tunes which he helped preserve by using them as a basis for his compositions. A gifted singer himself he crafted many of his collected pieces into a state in which they could be presented for performance. These short pieces have a disarming simplicity and a feeling that they could go on forever. They could easily be woven into the fabric of a symphony. These are the stuff of which earworms are made though in my ears each of these six vies with the rest to take precedence.

Aleksandr Spendiarian (known in Russia as Spendiarov) concentrated more on orchestral music in preference to the vocal music that formed the majority of Komitas’ output. He is credited with helping develop an Armenian national sound that kept its own distinctive voice and set it apart from the ‘domination’ of Russia whose musical influence was understandably strong. Most would-be composers from Armenia and for that matter from all the other countries that were eventually to become republics within the USSR naturally ended up in either Moscow or St. Petersburg/Leningrad for their musical education. Spendiarian was no exception, having lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov (1896-1900) and spending most of his creative life in Russia, hence the other spelling of his name. His Crimean Sketches were inspired by the melodies of his homeland and were premičred in 1903. As with the Komitas pieces these bear the recognisable imprint of folk music but use a more complex style and as the note-writers explain show an influence of Chopinesque figuration. There is no doubt that every piece on this disc is captivating due to the rich nature of the source material. These are no exception with a frequent mesmeric feeling to them.

The same influences exerted themselves on all the composers represented here and there is a collective feel that stretches across from the earliest pieces (late 19th century) to the most recently composed, dating from only a few years ago. Arno Babadjanian whose works here date from the 1930s to the 1970s also incorporated these folk-inspired melodies. Sometimes it is only the more modern style of writing that gives away the fact that you are listening to a different composer to the two previous ones. This is not to imply that there is little that distinguishes the music of each from another but merely that they were all drawn to tap into the rich vein of folk melodies from their homelands.

Eduard Abramian and Eduard Bagdasarian were contemporaries and of Babadjanian. Each was born within three years of each other and died within four years of each other. Both Abramian and Bagdasarian wrote collections entitled 24 preludes and the disc presents four of the Abramian and three of Bagdasarian sets. Abramian’s do not present pieces in major and minor keys as did Chopin - some keys appear more than once others are omitted altogether. This may be explained by the fact that they were composed over a long period of almost 25 years and only after completion were they arranged as a set. Bagdasarian’s on the other hand follow Chopin’s lead in concept while echoes of Rachmaninov are most evident in the writing. They are all brilliantly inventive and infectious works and it is nice to know that each composer’s complete collection of these is available on Grand Piano discs GP665 (Abramian) and GP664 (Bagdasarian). Having heard them I am sure listeners will feel encouraged to explore them all which is well worth doing.

The sole composer of the music presented here who is still among us and composing is Robert Amirkhanian (b.1939). Even though the three works of his date from only six years ago they embody the same compelling folkloric motivation as do all the other 23 pieces on the disc. Completing a full circle we read that Amirkhanian was a teacher at the State Conservatory in Armenia’s capital Yerevan which institution bears the name of Komitas in that composer’s honour. Once again the threads of Armenian folk melodies are detectable in his music though through a more modern prism. This incorporates elements of French impressionism with whiffs of the dreamy nature of Debussy and of jazz that adds a touch of ‘spice’.

All the music here is highly enjoyable and draws one back for repeated listening. Pianist Mikael Ayrapetyan is the perfect vehicle to drive these pieces. Yerevan-born himself the music inevitably runs through his musical veins and all the nuances inherent are subtly illuminated by this skilful musician. This is an extremely enjoyable disc.

Steve Arloff

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