Saturday, 4 January 2020

Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer explores the brilliant piano music of Aram Khachaturian on this debut disc

Kharachaturian: Piano Works [Iyad Sughayer] [Bis: BIS2436]
Aram Khachaturian - piano music; Iyad Sughayer; BIS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
In an impressive debut disc, Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer explores the piano music of the Soviet Armenian composer

The name of the Soviet-Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian is forever wedded to his two ballets, Gayaneh (1942) and Spartacus (1954), music from which is firmly welded into the popular consciousness. But he composed much else over a long career.

This enterprising new disc on BIS from Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer explores the range of Aram Khachaturian's piano music, with the Piano Sonata (1961), Two pieces (1926), Children's Album, Book 1 (1947), Poem (1927), Sonatina (1959) and Toccata (1932).

Born in Tblisi, Georgia in an Armenian family, Khachaturian was much influenced by the folk music around him. He studied in Moscow with Gliere and then with Myaskovsky. Though he was denounced in the 1948 decree which also denounced Shostakovich and Prokofiev,  he was soon rehabilitated probably because it was not his music which was found to be objectionable but his administrative role in the Composers Union. Khachaturian remained a Communist throughout his life, regarding the Sovietisation of Georgia as being key to his being able to become a musical artist.

Khachaturian in 1971
Khachaturian in 1971
Khachaturian's Piano Sonata was written in 1961 and though it was premiered in 1962 and performed by pianists such as Emil Gilels, the composer had doubts and continued to tinker with it, revising and cutting. On this recording Sughayer plays the work as left at Khachaturian's death. It is a substantial three movement work lasting over 25 minutes, and was dedicated to Khachaturian's teacher Myaskovsky. The opening Allegro Vivace is a fearsome movement, and Sughayer really goes at it. There are moments when we can hear the Khachaturian of the ballets, but here textures are starker. The slow movement starts lyrically exotic before becoming more richly complex in texture. For the finale we return to the fast pace of the opening, with lots of notes impressively played and shaped by Sughayer.

The Two Pieces were written whilst Khachaturian was still studying in Moscow, both are dance based the first a waltz, the second just a dance, but though lighter in style there are still moments of lush harmonies and complex pianistic requirements.

Khachaturian's two books of Children's Pieces come from 1947 and 1962. Sughayer performs Book One which contains ten short pieces, including eight which were originally published as The Adventures of Ivan with titles such as 'Andantino (Ivan Sings)', 'No Walk Today (Ivan Can't Go Out Today)', 'Lyado is Seriously Ill (Ivan is Ill)', 'Birthday (Ivan Goes to a Party)', 'Study (Ivan is Very Busy)', 'Musical Picture (Ivan and Natasha)', 'Cavalry (Ivan's Hobbyhorse)', 'Invention', 'In Folk-Style (A Tale of Strange Lands)', and 'Fugue'. The result is charming and approachable, with an interesting neo-classical feel mixing in with Khachturian's style. This is music which combines character and directness in a way which makes you understand why the music has remained appealing.

Poem is another early work from 1927, richly textured and romantic but with an interesting edge to the harmonies. With the Sonatina of 1959 we move into more neo-classical territory again with three rather perky movements which were originally dedicated to the pupils at Prokopevsk Elementary Music School.

Finally Khachaturian's Toccata of 1932, a work which became a showpiece for virtuoso pianists, and one which allows Sughayer to conclude his recital in impressively brilliant style.

Iyad Sughayer studied initially in his native Amman, Jordan and made his concerto debut at the age of eight with Jordan's National Music Conservatory Orchestra, he went on to study at Chetham's School of Music (where this disc was recorded in the new Stoller Hall), the Royal Northern College of Music and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where he received the Trinity Laban Gold Medal. Sughayer is currently a City Music Foundation Artist, and on 26 February 2020 he will be performing music by Khachaturian at the Church of St Bartholomew the Great at 1pm as part of the CMF Presents concert series.

This disc makes an impressive debut disc as Sughayer is clearly master of the complex demands of Khachaturian's virtuoso piano writing yet also brings in a fine element of character and passion, whilst playing the simpler pieces with a nice directness.

Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) - Piano Sonata (1961) [26.45]
Aram Khachaturian - Two Pieces (1926) [3.54]
Aram Khachaturian - Children's Album, Book 1 (1947) [18.30]
Aram Khachaturian - Poem (1927) [9.46]
Aram Khachaturian - Sonatina (1959) [9.10]
Aram Khachaturian - Toccata (1932) [5.04]
Iyad Sughayer (piano)
Recorded December 2018 at Stoller Hall, Chetham's School of Music
BIS BIS-2436 1CD [74.46]
Available from Amazon.

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