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CHAMBER REVIEW
Concerts Grand / Sunday, September 20, 2009
Nareh Arghamanyan, Pianist

Conductor Constantine Orbelian Congratulates Ms. Arghamanyan

HIGH ARTISTRY IN CONCERTS GRAND'S OPENING RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 20, 2009

Anticipation was in the warm air Sept. 20 in Santa Rosa’s Newman Auditorium. In addition to being the first Concerts Grand Series recital of the year, there was excitement surrounding the Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, making her Northern California debut amid extravagant press notices and comparisons with such artists as the young Alicia de Larrocha.

Beginning with Mendelssohn’s best work for piano, the Op. 54 Variations Serieuses, Ms. Arghamanyan stated the theme slowly, almost reverently, and clearly she can shape a beautiful phrase. The entire work positively sparkled. But it was also a carefully thought out interpretation, the tempo changes in the variations seeming to flow naturally, the embellishments played with bravura that never buried the noble theme. In this work the composer moves from the declining chromatic line to a rising chromatic line with a serious nature, and yet it was quietly delicate, and the pianist could suddenly launch a fortissimo passage that made one almost jump from their seat.

Concluding the first half was Schumann’s mighty Carnaval, Op. 9, receiving a performance that compared favorably with that of Jon Nakamatsu on the same stage Nov. 30. Here the dynamic range was large, a lovely pianissimo in Reconnaissance and Replique contrasting the dynamic passion of the final Marche. The Chopin section had the right amount of subtle agitation, dynamic shadings and lyrical beauty. Sphinxes’ mysterious bass rumble was omitted. In the coda Ms. Arghamanyan chose at Piu Stretto a tempo that almost outran her fleet fingers and control. Almost. It was a performance that brought the audience of 110 to their feet in cheers.



Following intermission the pianist returned to perform the recently-popular Pletnev transcription of seven scenes from the Tchaikovsky “Nutcracker” ballet. With themes so familiar, Ms. Arghamanyan was free to lavish her considerable command of color and texture, each part unfolding differently than the preceding. The Intermezzo was especially effective, depicting the cold Russian winter, as were the strains of the celesta and harp in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. I found the playing ravishing, and deft pedal use allowed the artist to generate piano sound (as opposed to architecture or color) in and for itself. That is not a common trait in youthful pianists.

The recital ended with a signature piece for the artist and the work which captured the audience in her gold medal success at the 2008 Montreal International Piano Competition, the second Rachmaninoff Sonata. Ms. Arghamanyan used the composer’s revised version (1931) and gave a volcanic performance, but perhaps without the last bit of sonic power. Newman has dead acoustics but is sufficiently small that even a slightly underplayed Rachmaninoff work has considerable impact. It’s a three-movement work but the pianist gave the impression of having only one, the drama of the opening and closing Allegro sections connected by a lyrical and pensive interlude. Here again Ms. Arghamanyan’s mastery was evident, making a super-romantic composition cohesive and telling. No one was left in their seats following the final forte crashes, and one wondered what the demanded encore could be after the sonic carnage of Rachmaninoff’s glorious finale.

It was a wise encore choice, the nostalgic Bach arrangement of his contemporary Alessandro Marcello’s Adagio from the Oboe Concerto in D, BWV 974. Here Ms. Arghamanyan lavished lovely pianistic colors, paired with virtually no tempo fluctuation and a staccato touch. It was a riveting reading.

The recital stands with the recent Santa Rosa piano concerts of Hamelin, Kuschnerova, Pompa-Baldi and Nakamatsu as radiant musical art. And Ms. Arghamanyan is just 20.

The reviewer is the Producer of Concerts Grand. Jim Burns and James Houle contributed to the review.

Marin pianist Kenn Gartner attended Ms. Arghamanyan's recital and submitted comments on the pianism:

I shall not discuss interpretation (one may surmise what the mature Nareh Arghamanyan will do) or repertoire; instead, I shall confine my remarks to the reasons why this performance was so successful.

What was it about this young pianist's playing that entranced the Newman audience? For example, her two-note phrases were done beautifully. This is set of two notes, the first of which is louder than the second, and the second note starts at the level of the first note's decay. The pianist also took time to breathe. Most phrases in music are composed according to how long a human may sing them. Thus, there was time for breath between each sentence (a term also utilized in music) which varied according to the interpretation of the music. There were frames of silence around the movements and the works, and she kept her hands on the keyboard and thus conveyed to the house she was not finished with the work.

Her fortissimi were, for the most part, non-percussive: when she played loudly (and this piano was not truly able to respond to her demands) we did not hear the fingers rapping the key, a failing in many pianists. Instead, she grabbed the keys, thus avoiding the additional rap of the key hitting the key-bed. Miss Arghamanyan's pianissimos were made the same way: she pulled the sound from the instrument and controlled the descent of the key.

Last, and certainly not least, this pianist took the time to construct her phrases. If a particular moment required more time (this is the concept of the agogic) she took that time, stretching the music where it needed to be stretched, contracting the music where it needed to be contracted for the purpose of her vision. Think of what Chopin terms tempo rubato, or “stolen time.” The playing here had rubati, but the stretching of pianistic lines to create drama and sentiment goes far beyond what Chopin mentions.

My personal comment to her as she departed was that “This recital was worth 40 piano lessons!" She was so modest and unassuming I needed to explain that chronological age should never be an issue. I learned a lot.