Wednesday 18 February 2015

The latest Nareh Aghamanyan's Khachaturian & Prokofiev piano concertos review in the International Record Review

"With a performance of this quality, this neglected work should soon find itself many more admirers."

We are proud to present the reviews of our  'Serge Prokofiev and Aram Khachaturian-Piano Concertos' release with Nareh Arghamanyan and Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and conducted by Alain Altinoglu. The review was published on the International Record Review by Nicholas Salwey on their February edition:

It’s always easier to write a positive review than a ‘critical’ one, and I was a little apprehensive since I was unfamiliar with the soloist or the conductor. However, any fears have proven entirely unfounded here as this release is first rate in every way. It’s the third disc on pentatone label by the 25-year-old Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, following one devoted to Rachmaninov solo piano works, and one of the Liszt Concertos with the same forces as here. I listened to this latest release and immediately sought out the review in IRR for the Liszt concertos to see whether my admiration was shared (February 2013). I wholly concur with Patrich Rucker: ‘Given Altinoglu’s fine ear for detail, nuance and balance, I regret not having heard more of his work. As for Arghamanyan, she is obviously a woman with ideas. Listening to her eloquent discourse is a pleasure.’

Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto is so often claimed as the hardest of concertos but nonetheless it remains fundamentally pianistic, and it is brilliantly written for the instrument. Prokofiev’s third poses so many different and new technically challenges, dry and severe compared to the richness of Rachmaninov, with split notes (playing two notes with each finger), martellato octave passagework and coruscating chordal work: one can only imagine that Prokofiev deliberately set out to outdo his compatriot. Benchmark recordings are plentiful. Prokofiev’s own recordings has been remastered to fine effect on Naxos and his technical abilities are extraordinary for someone who was foremost a composer, while Ashkenazy’s mid-price set of the five concertos on Decca remains a formidable contender. I would also have to single out Martha Argerich (with the Berlin Philharmonic and Abbado), both of Kissin’s recordings (the first also with the BPO with Abbado, the second with Ashkenazy), and most recently Jean-Efflam Bavouzet with Gianandrea Noseda, as well as the stellar combination of Lang Lang with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. They are all singularly impressive and one marvels at their virtuosity, energy and vitality: it takes something very special to challenge such versions.

Arghamanyan brings something new to this work, for there is care and detail and sensitivity here which I have not heard before, and it is achieved without any loss of tempo. Indeed, her fleet-fingered virtuosity is a rival for the finest. To quote my colleague one last time, ‘Arghamanyan seems to be one of those musicians able simply to let go and, even in the most perilous circumstances, fly unfettered by caution. In doing so, she loses neither her sense of proportion nor the essential beauty of her sound.’ These words are just as apt for this release and there are numerous moments here which had me smiling at the subtlety of her touch amidst the most challenging of passagework, with glistening runs which are a match for any (the two bars before 6), gorgeous questioning left-handed ideas (through precisely observing the phrasing, four after fig. 17), the cross-rhythms in the poco meno mosso, and then the sensitivity in such moments as the first variation of the second movement. It’s all done wholly without affectation, and without drawing attention to itself. Meanwhile, at times where so many rush to the conclusions of the outer movements with an accelerando (which is not marked) and a sense of precipitato, Arghamanyan proceeds with poise allied with power and it’s just as convincing.

No less impressive is the performance of Khachaturian’s Piano Concertos, a work that is too often brash and percussive. Finally we now have a modern version to rank alongside the classic accounts by Alicia de Larrocha and Willian Kapell. I can’t fault Arghamanyan, and the strident octaves and chordal passages are played with a full and beautiful tone, the cadenzas are a tour de force and her Armenian heritage is clearly audible as the sprung folk rhythms dance along so naturally. The orchestral support is immaculate in both works, and these interpretations have been wholly absorbed by all involved, with impeccable ensemble and some fabulous instrumental solos, such as the richness of the bass clarinet at the start of the second movement and of course the haunting sound of the musical saw (an alternative to the flexatone, and sanctioned by Khachaturian). With a performance of this quality, this neglected work should soon find itself many more admirers.

These performances are captured in immaculate SACD sound, with ideal balance between soloist and orchestra. Arghamanyan is one to watch, and I hope we hear more from this remarkable partnership. This is a disc to which I shall return often.

Nicholas Salwey