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Sarkis BARKHUDARIAN (1887–1973)
Music for Piano
Four Oriental Dances (1910–13) [9:31]
Twelve Armenian Dances (1943) [22:50]
Piano Pieces, Series 1 (1910–1918) [19:00]
Piano Pieces, Series 2 (1915–1923) [22:17]
Mikael Ayrapetyan (piano)
rec. 2017, Great Hall, Moscow Conservatory

More power to percipient pianist Mikael Ayrapetyan in ceaselessly developing the already wide compass of his Secrets of Armenia music project. We should also be thankful to Grand Piano for supporting Avrapetyan's quest. It can only be to the good that we get the opportunity to hear so much unknown music.

Sarkis Barkhudarian was born in Tiflis (now Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia). His childhood world included the noises of street musicians and his home resounded to Armenian folksongs. He entered the Tbilisi Music Institute in 1900 and in his early teens visited the cities of Ani, Alexandropol (now Gyumri) and Etchmiadzin (now Vagharshapat) - the first and last of these names may be familiar from the symphonies of Alan Hovhaness. He later won a place at the Berlin Hochschule. Circumstances soon found him studying with Jāzeps Vītols and Vasily Pavlovich Kalafati in St Petersburg. There he met another Armenian composer Aleksandr Spendiarian (or Spendiarov, 1871–1928), whose Almast and Crimean Sketches appeared as makeweights on the 1975 EMI LP ASD 3106 and whose Almįst: Persian March and Yerevanian Studies were on ASV CDDCA1037.

Barkhudarian's earliest interpretations of Armenian folk themes were published in St Petersburg (1913) and these went down well with Glazunov and Liadov. Glazunov later said of Barkhudarian: "His works are infused with the bright colours of the Armenian nation, and distinguished for their sincerity, elegance and harmony of form." Graduating in 1917, he returned to Tbilisi and, after the Russian Revolution, became Georgia's Head of the Music Department of the People’s Commissariat of Education. The need to write music never relented and he continued to compose. There were concert tours of Georgia, Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan. In 1923, he was appointed Head of Composition at Tbilisi Conservatory and stayed there until the early 1950s, not that this held him back from regular visits to Armenia where he also taught at Yerevan Conservatory. His pupils included Arutiunian (1920–2012) and Muradeli (1908–1970). In addition to a large number of solo piano pieces, Barkhudarian wrote the ballet Narine (1938), the children’s opera Keri-Kuchi (1945), and other pieces for orchestra (including a symphonic poem, Anoush (1916) excerpted in the Piano Pieces), for brass band, chamber ensemble, stage and film.

Grand Piano now admit us to the company of thirty-six dipping, curtseying, murmuring, chattering and quick-stepping fantasies and dances by Barkhudarian. He may have lived well into the period of Western modernism and experiment but his music shrugs off such influences. The pieces here are all quite short and will not tax your attention. The Nocturne possesses a refined complexity and suggests a shaded spring. The effect is enhanced by a hypnotic ostinato. Equally gentle is the gracious Dance of the Bride and Dance of the Rural Girls from the twelve Oriental Dances. The Four Oriental Dances (1910–13) are a product of his St Petersburg sojourn. There's more than a scintilla of Rimsky-Korsakov in the wild round that is the Third Oriental Dance. The same can be discerned in Naz Par. The burly rhythmic qualities of the Provocative Dance are well set out and their roughness is replaced with the subtle and burblingly fast Watercolour from the first set of piano pieces. This delicate line of inspiration carries over into the fast-pulsed Boots-Dragonfly. The Dance of Farewell and Festive Dance have a rounded romantic vigour. By contrast Gulnara's Dance is all moonlight and play. Anoush's Sorrow warmly encapsulates, in a cocooned atmosphere, the mood suggested by its title. The disc (and series 2) ends with the gentle cradling of the Lullaby of Shushani.

The recording is unapologetically and beneficently forward-placed; no detail seems to escape. As usual, the liner note is by the pianist and the background set out in this review is indebted to that source. The note is in English and German.

If you already have a yen for Ayrapetyan's explorations then you can safely add this Barkhudarian volume, with its premiere recordings, to the ones you already have by Stepanian, Arutiunian, Abramian, Komitas, Bagdasarian and Babajanian. It will also speak to you if you are drawn in by Kirsten Johnson's two Rumanian collectionson Guild: Kėngė and Rapsodi. Another world opens out for the curious.

Rob Barnett


Four Oriental Dances (1910–13) [9:31]
Oriental Dance No. 1 [2:59]
Oriental Dance No. 2 [1:47]
Oriental Dance No. 3 [2:50]
Oriental Dance No. 4 ([:48]

Twelve Armenian Dances (1943) (22:50]
No. 1. Dance of the Bride [1:45]
No. 2. Children’s Dance [1:05]
No. 3. Dance of the Matchmaker [1:48]
No. 4. Dance of the Rural Girls [1:43]
No. 5. Provocative Dance (Men’s) [1:33]
No. 6. Maiden’s Roundelay [1:20]
No. 7. Dance of Friendship (Men’s) [2:21]
No. 8. Dance of a Mountain Girl [2:05]
No. 9. Dance of Farewell (Women’s) [2:14]
No. 10. Masker’s Dance (Men’s) [2:17]
No. 11. Circular Dance (Joint) [2:27]
No. 12. Festive Dance (Men’s) [1:43]

Piano Pieces, Series 1 (1910–1918) [19:00]
No. 1. Naz-Par [2:29]
No. 2. Fairy Tale [3:18]
No. 3. Sketch in B minor [1:43]
No. 4. Watercolour [1:05]
No. 5. Smooth Dance [1:33]
No. 6. Lullaby [1:57]
No. 7. Maiden Dance [1:45]
No. 8. Boots-Dragonfly [0:41]
No. 9. Dance in A flat major [1:32]
No. 10. Sketch in D minor [2:30]

Piano Pieces, Series 2 (1915–1923) [22:17]
No. 1. Scherzo [3:01]
No. 2. Circular Dance in B minor [2:51]
No. 3. Gulnara’s Dance [1:06]
No. 4. Nanochka’s Dance [1:16]
No. 5. Anoush’s Sorrow [2:13]
No. 6. Prelude in D minor [0:54]
No. 7. Prelude in D sharp minor [1:01]
No. 8. Nocturne [4:08]
No. 9. Sketch in A major [2:43]
No. 10. Lullaby of Shushani [2:41]


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