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Alexander Afanasyevich SPENDIAROV (1871–1928)
Complete Piano Works and Chamber Works with Piano
Mikael Ayrapetyan (piano)
Yulia Ayrapetyan (piano); Vladimir Sergeev (violin); Demian Fokin (cello)
rec. 2019, Moscow
GRAND PIANO GP852-53 [2 CDs: 130:39]

Grand Piano continue their strong Armenian line with no sign of fatigue. While they have pianists of the calibre of Mikael Ayrapetyan at their bidding may they long persevere with music from this neglected treasury. Ayrapetyan has already recorded an anthology of Armenian music as well as piano music by Komitas, Abramian, Barkhudarian, Bagdasarian and Arutiunian. There is a link between the last named and Spendiarov in that, at the age of seven, Arutiunian played for Spendiarov. Neither is Spendiarov - also known as Spendiarian - a complete unknown among the ranks of record-collector music enthusiasts. Orchestral excerpts from his Almast and Crimean Sketches appeared as makeweights on an 1975 EMI-Melodiya LP (ASD 3106). His Almást: Persian March and Yerevan Studies were on an ASV disc (CDDCA1037).

Spendiarov was born in Kakhovka; now a city in the Ukraine. His childhood was lived in Simferopol and was illuminated by his mother’s piano playing. In the late nineteenth century he studied at Moscow University: law at first and then a headlong plunge into music. There is a Concert Overture from this period. He was in Rimsky-Korsakov’s classes and was a friend of Glazunov. Settling in the Crimea, there came two orchestral sets of Crimean Sketches and he began to harvest Armenian and Persian folk tunes. In 1923 there was a concert at the Leningrad Philharmonic in which was heard one of his sets of Crimean Sketches, a suite from the opera Almást (completed in 1928) and the symphonic picture, Three Palms. Spendiarov had his own following as a teacher and this included Khachaturian. He had ambitious plans (including a Sevan symphony and the symphony-cantata Armenia). However terminal pneumonia frustrated these.

The first CD comprises pieces for piano solo while the second mixes in some for violin and piano and cello and piano. The Yerevan Études from the 1920s offer a ‘Heydari’ in the form of a slow gavotte with a stirring close, and a ‘Gidzhas’, which is at first slow, again making a transition through oriental trills and a final animated gesture. Overwhelmingly, these pieces are contemplative in character. The ‘Chanson élégiaque’ seems, unusually, to explore a steadily trickling watercourse. The ‘Chanson à boire’ is quite exercised but then falls into an unaffected song, finds its legs and ends quietly. Kaïtarma is calm and then builds up head of steam. Two isolated waltzes from the 1890s are quite at home in the salon, as are the Menuette and Lullaby. They are followed by a cheeky Scherzo. The Barcarolle is conventional but has charm and makes a pass towards complexity. The Introduction and Khaytarma sees Spendiarov finding his ethnic feet. Brave Warriors (1915) has greater backbone and a sense of stiff janissary swagger. Folk Song (1917) takes the listener back to an ethnic singing line and ethnicity inventively inflects the final Dance and Khaytarma which also dates from 1917.

The second disc rings the changes with a mix of chamber duos and solo piano. The seven little pieces for violin and piano include a Waltz (1892) which is somewhat conventional. A sultry violin helps leaven things as does the Folk Song with the violin’s husky tone. It’s Kreisler with a very slight oriental twist. Much the same applies to the Melody (1894), Romance (1892) and Canzonetta (1896). The Lullaby (1893) is a good piece. This miniature, crafted from smiling romance, merits being heard as a display piece in a BBC Young Musician of the Year round. The Khaytarma (1903) opens the door to some fruity violin tone and smiling romance. It’s a good piece of Elgarian sweetness with touching substance - a good tune too. More Bridge, Glazunov, Fauré and small-scale Elgar in the two 1893 Romances for cello and piano. The music is not at all assertive yet the rocking figure in the first Barcarolle registers benevolently. Back to solo piano for Sarkisyan’s arrangements of Spendiarov’s songs. To the Rose is a triumph of steadily paid out charm while Eastern Lullaby is gently lulling, as is the halting Mi lar blbul. The Song of the Crimean Tatars inhabits the depths of the Volga all within a cocoon that has a touch of Debussy about it. The Crimean Sketches benefit from the humour implicit in mouse-like squeaks. The Almást excerpts are not as exotic as I thought they might be. They stand out as gentle dances with pauses inbuilt. Along the way there’s a graceful statement with an assertive climax and an orientally accented yet peppery march. There’s also something very close to a Hungarian stomp.

Each of the 38 pieces across these two CDs is separated by a good helping of silence; a classy touch which speaks volumes for the artistic judgements being made by musicians and record company. Add to this excellent work-specific notes by the pianist and a plethora of world premiere recordings with clarity and impact. There’s no lack of fervour from these musicians although the salon-style pieces are at a lower temperature.

Rob Barnett
CD 1 [63:46]
Yerivanskiye ėtyudï (Yerevan Études), Op. 30 (version for piano) (1925)
1. No. 1. Heydari [7:26]
2. No. 2. Gidzhas [3:40]
Esquisses de la Crimée (Crimean Sketches), Series 1, Op. 9 (version for piano) (1903)
3. No. 1. Air de danse [2:10]
4. No. 2. Chanson élégiaque [2:10]
5. No. 3. Chanson à boire [1:45]
6. No. 4. Air de danse, "Kaïtarma" [4:18]
7. Waltz for Piano in B - Flat Major (1892) [3:38]
8. Waltz for Piano in E - Flat Major (1893) [5:16]
9. Scherzo for Piano in D Major (1894) [2:48]
10. Menuette for Piano in B - Flat Major, Op. 3, No. 1 (1895) [5:08]
11. Barcarolle for Piano in G Minor (1895) [2:46]
12. Introduction and Khaytarma (1895) [3:37]
13. Lullaby for Piano, Op. 3, No. 2 (1897) [3:14]
14. Menuette for Piano in D Minor (1897) [3:40]
15. Brave Warriors, Op. 26 (1915) [6:23]
16. Folk Song (1917) [2:58]
17. Dance and Khaytarma (1917) [2:01]

CD 2 [68:19]
1. Waltz for Violin and Piano in E Minor (1892) [3:12]
2. Folk Song for Violin and Piano (1903) [2:22]
3. Romance for Violin and Piano (1892) [3:17]
4. Lullaby for Violin and Piano (1893) [3:11]
5. Melody for Violin and Piano (1894) [3:21]
6. Canzonetta for Violin and Piano in D Major (1896) [2:07]
7. Khaytarma, Op. 9, No. 4 (1903) [4:16]
8. Romance for Cello and Piano in F Major (1893) [3:29]
9. Romance for Cello and Piano in G Minor (1893) [3:30]
10. Barcarolle for Cello and Piano in G Major (1894) [2:06]
11. Barcarolle for Cello and Piano in G Minor (1896) [2:34]
12. To the Rose, Op. 1, No. 3 (arr. V. Sarkisyan for piano) (1894) [2:33]
13. Eastern Lullaby, Op. 5, No. 2 (arr. V. Sarkisyan for piano) (1915) [2:51]
14. Mi lar blbul, Op. 22, No. 2 (arr. V. Sarkisyan for piano) (1910) [3:19]
15. Song of Crimean Tatars, Op. 25: No. 1. Lullaby (arr. V. Sarkisyan for piano) [5:02]
16. Sayat Nova Songs: Garib Blbul (arr. V. Sarkisyan for piano) (1925) [2:52]
17. To the Beloved (arr. V. Sarkisyan for piano) (1916) [3:48]
18. Esquisses de la Crimée (Crimean Sketches), Series 2, Op. 23: V. La souris (arr. V. Sarkisyan for piano) (1905) [2:48]
Almast (1918–28) (excerpts) (1918–28)
19. Dance of Maidens [2:22]
20. Dance of Men [3:48]
21. Persian March [4:53]

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