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Komitas • Terterian: Orchestral Works

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits, et al (Chandos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Komitas  Terterian
Komitas: Shoger Jan (Dear Shoger); Terterian: Symphonies Nos 3 & 4; Trad: Noobar-Noobar
Tigran Aleksanyan (duduk), Vahe Hovanesian (duduk, zurna); Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
Chandos CHSA 5241 (hybrid CD/SACD)   58:56 mins

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These two symphonies, written in the mid 1970s by the modernist Armenian composer Avet Rubent Terterian (1929-94), are extraordinary, often uncomfortable creations. The music, severely dislocated, mostly proceeds in isolated strands and extreme dynamics: timpani tattoos, a tolling bell, slithering brass, tutti shrieks, the faintest harpsichord. Lament, despair, mockery: those are the dominant emotions stirred.

Musical influences aren’t hard to spot: the anguished compositions of his friend Giya Kancheli; Poland’s ‘sonorists’ of the 1950s and ’60s; the plaintive contours of Armenian folk music, instrumentally spot-lit during Symphony No. 3 by the zurna and dudukwind instruments (the last also featured in two separate improvisations). But the chief shaping forces in these desolate mosaics are clearly personal, from the wounding death of Terterian’s younger brother Herman, a conductor, to the national tragedy of the Armenian genocide following the First World War.

Pairing two symphonies previously issued on disc by ASV in 1997, Kirill Karabits and his Bournemouth orchestra plunge into Terterian’s strange world with total commitment and vivid instrumental colours, supported by the usual enveloping Chandos sound. It all helps give thrust and mournful purpose to the Third, dedicated to Herman, but to my ears leaves the more extreme Fourth, heard in its original, unbarred version, too thinly stretched to be plausible. That shouldn’t stop musical voyagers exploring this remarkable composer; many more symphonies are available online.

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Geoff Brown