By Women: Piano Works by Armenian Women Composers

Some may think this album’s program is way too niche. Not me. I think it’s highly focused, and that focus is what makes it successful. Pianist Sahan Arzruni has recorded an album of classical music by Armenians. More specifically, Armenian women. Listening to the wide variety of styles made me want to hear more. 

This very narrow slice of Armenian classical music is incredibly diverse. It makes me wonder how many other gems await in the entire corpus of Armenian classical music. 

The album opens with a sonata and prelude by Geghuni Chitchyan. Chitchyan is something of an icon in Armenian classical music. These works date from the 1950s. They remind me a little of Bartok — if Bartok had a mischievous attitude. 

At the other end of the spectrum is Mary Kouyoumdjian. She’s an Armenian-American composer and teaches at Columbia University. “I Haven’t the Words” is her reaction to the George Floyd shooting. Kouyoumdjian writes in a cosmopolitan style, with occasional traces of Armenian folk rhythms. 

Gayane Chebotaryan is represented with a set of six preludes. She’s a major figure in her country and deserves an audience outside it. Her preludes were written in 1948. They’re tonal and seem to drift from one idea to the next. The harmonies are subtly complex. 

There are other composers represented here, and every one worthy of further exploration. Sahan Arzruni is both the producer and performer for this recording. This is his project and his emotional investment shows. His goal is to give these works their best possible performances, and he succeeds. 

Only an Armenian could phrase the melodies just so to convey the composers’ intentions. I knew virtually nothing about Armenian classical music before listening to this album. I now know a little — and want to know more.

By Women: Piano Works by Armenian Women Composers
Sahan Arzruni, piano

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