Miniatures, Seven Songs and Seven Dances by performed by Arthur Aharonyan and the Hugo Wolf Quartett

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Komitas
LABELS: Megadisc
ALBUM TITLE: Komitas
WORKS: Miniatures; Seven Songs; Seven Dances
PERFORMER: Arthur Aharonyan (piano); Hugo Wolf Quartett
CATALOGUE NO: MDC 7875  

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Every few months a new CD comes out in which Armenian musicians and composers re-work the folk melodies collected by a composer who was one of the world’s first ethnomusicologists, Komitas Vardapet. And one strength of this double-CD lies in its excellent liner-note, which both tells the full story of Komitas’s tragically truncated career, and does justice to his importance in music history. Orphaned at an early age – and as a Christian discriminated against – in a village in what is now Turkey, he went on to single-handedly create a tradition for harnessing Armenian folk-songs in a Western-classical framework, thus creating bewitching choral arrangements; he also made piano arrangements of dances.

Many contemporary arrangers of these songs seek to recreate the presumed rawness of the originals, but Sergei Aslamazian, whose string-quartet settings form a sequence of what he calls ‘miniatures’, provides very different fare. As performed by the Hugo Wolf Quartett, these short works breathe a recital-hall atmosphere, and deserve to be listened to as a completely new work; the playing is exceptionally fine, and if Beethoven, Dvorák, and Janácek are evoked rather than the wilds of the south Caucasus, it still makes a beautiful homage.

Arthur Aharonyan’s arrangements of seven dances takes its cue from Komitas’s own arrangement of the Seven Songs but, with the melodies pared down to bare octaves, this second disc makes an unrewardingly severe half-hour, despite its strenuous attempts to evoke the lute, flute, drum and tambourine.

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Michael Church