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Alexander ARUTIUNIAN (1920-2012)
Complete Piano Works
Armenian Dance (1935) [2:16]
Pastoral (1936) [1:59]
Theme and Variations (1937) [5:48]
Three Preludes (1938) [4:48]
Prelude-poem (1943) [4:42]
Polyphonic Sonata (1946) [12:34]
Humoresque (1947) [0:42]
Three Musical Pictures (1963) [8:00]
Sonatina (1967) [4:49]
Six Moods (1976) [10:42]
Album for Children (2004) [7:23]
Hayk Melikyan (piano)
rec. Alphasound Recording Studio, Yerevan, Armenia, 11-15 Sept 2015
GRAND PIANO GP718 [63:44]

Grand Piano have plied a strong Armenian line. The pianist Hayk Melikyan did the same service for Babdjanian while Abramian and Bagdasarian were well served by Mikael Ayrapetyan. They now turn their attention to Arutiunian, a composer better known for his concertos and especially the world travelling First Trumpet Concerto. Born in Yerevan he studied there and at the age of seven played for Alexander Spendiarian (1871-1928). At the Moscow Conservatory his teachers included symphonist Nikolai Peiko. The variety and extent of his output for instrument and orchestra vies with that of Malcolm Arnold and includes works for piano, flute, violin, trombone and tuba. There are no fewer than four works for trumpet and orchestra. Add to these a three-act opera, Sayat-Nova, two avowedly patriotic works on a grand scale (Cantata about the Motherland, 1948 and from 1960 A Legend about the Armenian People), an Armenian Fantasy for pops band written jointly with Konstantin Orbelyan and a 1957 Symphony in four movements, dedicated to Arutiunian's wife. The single symphonies written by Orbelyan (1962) and Arutiunian (1957) would likely make a fascinating coupling.

The music on the present disc is sequenced chronologically. Armenian Dance is equable, controlled yet exotic; likewise the Pastoral is a cool and gentle evocation. The Theme and Variations would couple well with John Ireland's piano music of the 1930s. The Three Preludes and the Prelude-poem written within a five year period show the composer extending his expressive wings. The style is now more romantic yet always on a taut leash. The second Prelude has a nationalistic accent and a touch of Rimsky about it. The final Prelude rears up in momentary majesty before a flickering exoticism lights up the landscape. The isolated Prelude-poem is dedicated to Arutiunian's piano teacher Konstantin Igumnov (1873-1948). The romantic flame that warms the Preludes is here permitted a freer rein. The composer's style makes the closest contact with Rachmaninov who died, persona non grata in the Soviet world, in the year this was written. The just post-war Polyphonic Sonata proclaims the composer's Bachian allegiance but moderates it with the tang of dissonance. It's a work of crafted and hugely resounding clarity. The next year his Humoresque shows he can be more unbuttoned. By 1963 his Three Musical Pictures speak of an alliance between his ethnic 1930s and his more 'blocky' post-war style. The second Picture is smooth and sweet. The finale piece pitches Armenian nationalism against a Shostakovich-like rock-steady ostinato. The Sonatina is also in three very short movements. It was written for children but the middle movement has some very grown-up and gloomy nuances. The Six Moods are from the mid-1970s and range from strummed pensive to a quick-flowing arpeggiated liquidity to a Bachian reflection with a touch of Loussier about it. The other Moods encapsulate a quiescent hypnotic descent, uncontrived peace and a remorselessly purposeful kineticism designed to bring the house down. The eight miniatures of Album for Children are clearly for accomplished players and are not condescending in the moods struck.

The booklet is an object lesson in clarity of substantive expression and lucid layout. The four-page essay is by Melikyan.

If you would like to sample a range of Armenian piano music then Naxos offer a good anthology.

Strength and imagination are the hallmarks of this disc. The full-impact recording and Melikyan's total engagement complement this collection.

Rob Barnett



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