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Views from Ararat
Ahmed Adnan SAYGUN (1907-1991)
Suite for Violin and Piano, op. 33 (1956) [15:17]
Sonata for Violin and Piano, op. 20 (1941) [26:07]
Arno BABADSCHANJAN (1921-1983)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1959) [28:25]
Edward BAGHDASSARIAN (1922-1987)
Rhapsody for Violin and Piano (1958) [13:18]
Rebekka Hartmann (violin)
Margarita Oganesjan (piano)
rec. April-May 2014, Kupferhaus, Planegg, Germany
FARAO CLASSICS B108086 [43:49 + 39:31]

Rebekka Hartmann and Margarita Oganesjan have set out an intriguing ground-plan for this recent release from Farao Classics. At the centre is Mount Ararat which straddles the border between Turkey and its neighbour Armenia, though is technically located in the former. According to the Book of Genesis, Noah’s Ark rested there after the flood. The Armenians revere it as a Holy Mountain and hold it as a national symbol, depicting it on their coat of arms. Tension between the two nations has long been a problem, and recently people around the world assembled to mark the anniversary of the 1915 massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, demanding Turkey recognize the atrocity as genocide. This imaginatively conceived album proves that music can build a bridge between nations, bringing together composers of the region’s rich cultural heritage. Pairing the Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun with the Armenians Arno Babadschanjan and Edward Bagdassarian is a compelling concept.

Saygun was born in the last years of the Ottoman Empire, and saw the birth of the Turkish Republic. One of a group of composers known as the ‘Turkish Five’, his music combines Turkish folk and art music with Western Classical elements. In 1936 when Béla Bartók travelled to Turkey on one of his folk music expeditions, Saygun went in tow gleaning knowledge of the older composer’s style, a beneficial factor when it came to the composition of his own four string quartets. Not only did the two become close friends, but Saygun too took on the ethnomusicologist mantle. Some refer to him as the ‘Turkish Béla Bartók’.

The earliest of the composer’s two works is the Sonata for Violin and Piano, op. 20 from 1941, where Turkish folk elements meld with Western idioms. What immediately grabs my attention is the exquisite piano writing, virtuosic and colourful. The first movement has an improvisatory feel with long violin lines floating over a flowing piano accompaniment. Bartók isn’t too far away, lurking in the shadows. The brief second movement is catchy, and the players throw themselves headlong into the almost jazzy rhythms. They maintain forward thrust and momentum throughout. A contrasting Largo is steeped in an atmosphere of tranquillity and dreamy contemplation. Hartmann’s and Oganesjan’s subtle dynamic sensitivity adds a touch of enchantment. The finale has energy, agility and gusto, and the players inject plenty of fire into their performance. Saygun has much to say in this movement. In parts it is spiky and angular, in others grandiloquent and lushly rhapsodic. The music ends on a whisper.

The later Suite for Violin and Piano, op. 33 dates from 1956, and is one of Saygun’s more popular works; it’s not difficult to see why. It’s an engaging piece, a canvas of myriad exotic colours and rhythms. Again hints of Bartók permeate the four movement score (‘Prelude’, ‘Horon’, ‘Zeybeck’ and ‘Kastamonian Dance’), and I could even hear a bit of Enescu in the improvisatory nature of the music, especially in the last movement's introductory bars preceding the dance. Rebekka Hartmann’s lustrous tonal palette is ideally suited to the music, and she draws a richly modulated burnished tone from her 1675 Antonio Stradivari violin.

Born in Yerevan, Armenia, Arno Babadschanjan showed early musical promise, prompting the composer Aram Khachaturian to suggest that he be given lessons. In 1928, at the age of 7, he entered the Yerevan State Musical Conservatory. Ten years later he went to Moscow to study with Vissarion Shebalin (review review). He eventually returned to Yerevan, teaching at the conservatory there from 1950 to 1956. His Sonata for Violin and Piano was composed in 1959 and dedicated to Dmitri Shostakovich. The three movement Sonata makes challenging technical demands on the performers which Hartmann and Oganesjan meet admirably. Whilst echoes of Prokofiev and Shostakovich can be heard, the Armenian spirit permeates the music. Contrasting moods can be heard throughout, feverish and delirious at one time, shadowy and ghostly at another. The composer employs some ethereal harmonics in the third movement, delivered with pristine clarity by the violinist, whose intonation is at all times firmly on the mark.

Edward Baghdassarian, a near contemporary of Babadschanjan, was also born in Yerevan, Armenia and was an alumnus of the Yerevan State Conservatory, studying piano and composition before going on to further studies in Moscow. A composer of many diverse genres, his main claim to fame is his 24 preludes for piano and his Rhapsody of 1958. The latter exists in two versions, for violin and orchestra, and what we have here. The work is steeped in Armenian folk music and there are surprises aplenty in the many avenues it explores during its 13 minute narrative. Hartmann and Oganesjan give an assured performance of zest, fervour and exhilaration. A delightful work, it makes a memorable end to a wonderfully captivating programme.

In stunning sound quality, with excellent balance struck between both instruments, the engineers have worked marvels to showcase these seductive scores at their best. I’m so pleased to have made acquaintance with this hauntingly evocative music. Full marks go to Hartmann and Oganesjan and Farao Classics.

Stephen Greenbank



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