This week’s concert at Epiphany Church featured an accomplished pianist, Naira Babayan, a native of Armenia, currently on the Levine School faculty. She chose a program of piano music composed by Armenian composers.
The composers were Sayat-Nova (never heard of him), Komitas (never heard of him), Edward Mirzoyan (never heard of him) and Aram Khachaturian.
As to the music, I must say that none of it was music that I would select myself. Even the Khachaturian, including selections from the ballet suite Gayanne, which encompasses the well known Sabre Dance, is not music that I would choose for a piano concert.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of the program came from the biographies of the composers, both in the written program and when I looked them up on Wikipedia. Sayat-Nova, an 18th century musician, who composed songs in Persian and Arabic, as well as Armenian, Komitas, an Armenian priest and composer of liturgical music, born in Turkey in the 19th century, who was arrested during the First World War at the start of what has become known as the Armenian genocide and never recovered, and Mirzoyan, a contemporary composer and one of the teachers of the performer.
The problem with the Khachaturian was that the Sabre Dance and other Gayane melodies were not composed for the piano, to my knowledge, and do not sound their best as piano solos. This is not to take anything from Babayan, whose technique, power, speed and intensity is remarkable. Not that her version of the Sabre Dance did anything to lower my blood pressure: imagine Chopin’s Minute Waltz played in 20 seconds, and you can get the idea of the staccato with pedal that made up Babayan’s version of the piece.
Khachaturin is important to me, because it was a recording of his piano concerto that I heard during the spring of my high school senior year that re-interested me in classical music, and started me on the course I maintained throughout my college years to hear as much as I could, and learn as much as possible. As I write this, the first movement of the concerto is running through my head.
And that’s good.