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Arno BABAJANIAN (1921-1983)
Complete Original Works for Solo Piano
Polyphonic Sonata (1942-47) [12:49]
Six Pictures (1965) [13:57]
Melody and Humoresque (1973) [4:17]
Elegy (1978) [3:45]
Reflection (1973) [2:23]
Prelude (1947) [1:43]
Vagharshapat Dance (1947) [1:45]
Impromptu, "Exprompt" (1936) [2:49]
Capriccio (1951) [4:49]
Poem (1966) [6:39]
Hayk Melikyan (piano)
rec. 2010-2012, VEM Studio, Yerevan, Armenia
GRAND PIANO GP674 [56:31]

The name of Armenian composer, Babajanian is seen in various variant spellings including Babazhanian and Babadjanian. This is useful to know if you are searching for other references within this site. I first encountered his music through two pieces on an ASV CD which lead with the Tjeknavorian piano concerto. The Heroic Ballad with its genuinely joyful 'strut' and OTT cinematic romance definitely falls into the ‘guilty pleasures’ category. The Nocturne was far too civilised for its own good - more Yerevan Hilton than nights in an Armenian mountain garden.
 
The present collection is a valuable reminder of the breadth of invention borne of Soviet satellite state composers and of Babajanian in particular. The early Polyphonic Sonata encases a central movement that revels in the sort of Armenian sway we know from Khachaturian and a surreal drifting dissonance. The outer movements are tartly dissonant, pianola wild and with a dash of motoric jazz redolent of Kapustin. The Six Pictures from 1965 comprise: Improvisation; Folk Song; Toccatina; Intermezzo; Chorale and Sassoun Dance. The music is full of unruly life: cut-glass, vinegary jazz, shrapnel flying, uneasy peace and uncomfortable dreams, gawky, rushing and unwaveringly purposeful. The Melody and Humoresque: the first is sentimental and very moving with a typically Armenian oriental twist while the Humoresque again draws on that sinuous romantic way, coupled with an unblinking ruthless determination. The 1978 Elegy is “cocktail bar” sentimental with invention familiar from the middle movement of any of the Khachaturian concertos. Vagharshapat is a dancing piece: very sharply angular yet with Rachmaninovian grandeur. The Capriccio radiates affection amid those by now familiar middle-eastern accents. The Poem of 1966 is harshly dissonant - with notes crunching and colliding. Its starrily glimmering desolation tickles the ear before, in the final pages, it sprints off like a pianola gone berserk with freedom.
 
Babajanian studied at the Yerevan Conservatory before attending Moscow’s Gnessin Music School for composition lessons with Vissarion Shebalin. On his return to Yerevan he joined the teaching staff of the Conservatory. There are concertos, one each, for piano, violin and cello. Some of these have been recorded on Melodiya. I wonder if any of you have copies of these?
 
Here is more extremely good and fulfilling work done by Grand Piano with a well documented and recorded recital played to the manner born by Hayk Melikyan. Can we hope that they will embark on a piano series for the “English Rachmaninov” Reginald Sacheverell Coke or that other great yet promising English unknown Walter Stanley Gaze Cooper?

Rob Barnett


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