Some might look at the names on this disc and -- other than that of Aram Khachaturian -- dismiss the whole as a collection of obscurities and set it back down in the bin. However, Atma Classique's Armenian Chamber Music, featuring the Amici Chamber Ensemble, contains some repertoire that is major, but merely little known in the West. In the city of Yerevan they've erected a statue of composer Arno Babadjanian and his Trio in F sharp minor (1952), included here, is his most revered work. Although some sections of it has a slightly bitter tincture reminiscent of Bartók, the trio demonstrates a close kinship with Rachmaninov, particularly in its luscious second movement Andante. The Trio for clarinet, violin, and piano (1932) by the best-known of these composers, Aram Khachaturian, is an early work that stands, along with his String Quartet (1931), as the only major statement Khachaturian made in the extended chamber music idiom. It has a strong folk flavor and is relatively unsullied by populist, Soviet tendencies found in some of his later works. Alexander Arutiunian is known in the West primarily for his Trumpet Concerto (1950). Arutiunian's Suite for clarinet, violin, and piano (1992) was commissioned by the American chamber ensemble Verdehr Trio; this, and the Khachaturian trio -- which has been recorded quite frequently -- are the only pieces on this program to have been recorded in the West prior to this release. Parsegh Ganatchian, who was a student of Komitas Vardapet, composed the Lullaby included, which is a popular folk favorite in Armenia; here it is heard in an arrangement for voice, clarinet, and four cellos featuring soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, renowned for her performances of Vardapet songs. The newest work, Elegy for Restive Souls by Serouj Kradjian, is a bracing piece that commemorates the tragic and deadly earthquake that struck Armenia on December 7, 1988.
Atma's Armenian Chamber Music is very well recorded and the performances are polished; however, for the novice to Armenian classical music this recital might sound a little somber and similar, despite the varying styles of the composers and the presence of fast movements within the larger works and differing instrumental resources used from piece to piece. Best to take it in small doses if that's the case; those already attuned to Armenian music will likely find this very amenable, as the readings of these key Armenian works are very professional and adept. The one thing it lacks is an outward sense of excitement, rather tending toward a moody, muted ambience and downplaying obviously folksy elements.