Armenian artists champion the music of their homeland

Alexander Chaushian: Armenian Cello Concertos

The Strad Issue: July 2023

Description: Armenian artists champion the music of their homeland

Musicians: Alexander Chaushian (cello) Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra/Eduard Topchjan

Works: Babajanian: Cello Concerto. Khachaturian: Concerto in E minor. Petrossian: 8.4 Cello Concerto

Catalogue number: BIS BIS-2648 

Alexander Chaushian and Eduard Topchjan share a fervent mission to secure the widest possible dissemination of Armenian music as part of their national heritage. This enterprising and beautifully recorded disc serves their purpose admirably by bringing together three cello concertos that span almost 80 years, all inspired by various aspects of Armenian music, from liturgical chants in Petrossian’s 2021 work 8.4, to folk melodies in Khachaturian’s concerto (1946).

Petrossian’s language is perhaps the most inventive, with careful depiction of varying sound worlds to characterise the underlying themes. For example, the first movement ‘Massis’ (referring to Mount Ararat) uses brass, oboes and cellos, whereas the second ‘Sis’ opts for more percussive tones to underline its more stringent rhythmic character. Chaushian also finds a wide range of colours and timbres in the cello writing to reflect this aspect in a perceptive performance.

Khachaturian is the best-known figure here, famed for his passionate style, not least in his ballet Spartacus. The Cello Concerto only offers glimpses of this strong vein of melodiousness and, despite a committed performance from Chaushian, the piece seems discursive and structurally ill-defined.

The performers’ zeal really ignites in Babajanian’s concerto (1962), particularly in the exquisite sound world of the Andante, and the rhythmic bustle of the concluding Allegro. Here the finely honed ensemble under Topchjan is in perfect accord with an impressively virtuosic interpretation from Chaushian.