Piano and chamber music by Komitas

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COMPOSERS: Komitas
LABELS: Grand Piano
ALBUM TITLE: Komitas
WORKS: Piano and chamber music: Seven Folk Dances; Seven Songs; Twelve Children’s Pieces Based on Folk Themes; Msho Shoror; Seven Pieces
PERFORMER: Vladimir Sergeev (violin), Mikael Ayrapetyan (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: GP 720

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Born Soghomon Soghomonian in 1869, Komitas stopped composing exactly a hundred years ago, when the Turkish genocide which wiped out a million of his Armenian compatriots drove him irrevocably mad. His oeuvre is pitifully small, yet it resonates ever more powerfully: no year passes without some dedicated young chamber players – almost always Armenian – releasing a new set of arrangements. Komitas was collecting songs and dances in Turkey and Armenia at the time when Bartók was doing the same in Central Europe; he worked them up into bewitching songs for the three-part choirs he conducted, and created piano arrangements designed to evoke the effects he heard in little village ensembles.

This new collection, by the pianist Mikael Ayrapetyan aided by violinist Vladimir Sergeev, makes a fine tribute, pulling together almost everything Komitas wrote for the piano. But for anyone attempting these piano works the bar is set high, thanks partly to their implicit artistic challenges, and also to the fact that Grigory Sokolov can be heard playing them with irresistible grace on YouTube.

Only the charming Children’s Pieces feel like full-dress pianism: all the others are pared down to the most extreme economy. The pianist must have the courage to give full value to the yawning spaces between the bare octaves, and must possess the magic to fill them (as Sokolov resplendently does). Sergeev’s sound is warm and full, and Ayrapetyan ably evokes the multi-instrument ensemble on which Komitas would have first encountered this music, implying pensive plucks, low growls and wistful melodies. But he’s no Sokolov.

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Michael Church