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Pieces of the World: Music for Cello by SCHUBERT, ROSSINI, TCHAIKOVSKY & others [TrackList follows] – Marta Bagratuni – cello and voice, and others. – Blue Griffin

Pieces of the World: Music for Cello by SCHUBERT, ROSSINI, TCHAIKOVSKY & others [TrackList follows] – Marta Bagratuni – cello and voice, and others. – Blue Griffin 71:34 (Distr. by Albany) [8/21/14) ***:

This album is part of a growing trend – the vanity-published CD.  For those of us who believe more choice, particularly in classical music, is almost always a good thing, this is a laudable endeavour. The key enabler here is Kickstarter.com, the global crowdfunding platform started by three entrepreneurs in 2009. The driving force is Marta Bagratuni, a cellist and singer operating out of Michigan State University, who appears on every track of the album. She lists and thanks her dozens of donors on the jacket.

On her web site, Marta describes the album as “a 300 year journey of music written for the cello spanning 13 composers from different countries …” She begins in 18th century France with a Sonata for Cello Duo by Jean Barriere (1707 – 1747), an influential figure in the transition of popularity from the viol to the cello. Her accompanist is Suren Bagratuni, who I presume is her father. As with all the accompanying players on this album, they are introduced with the initials WSG (which I had to guess means “with special guest”) and not another word is said about them…The Sonata itself is delightful, showing sensitivity and technical brilliance, especially in the third movement.

Next is the prolific Franz Schubert’s Adagio for Two Cellos. The other cello is played by Natalia Khoma, and piano accompaniment is by Volodymyr Vynnysky. Gioacchino Rossini is represented with his Une Larme/A Tear, and this time Haobing Zhu plays the piano. And Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky has his Sentimental Waltz performed by Marta Bagratuni and Gennadi Zagor on piano. All three of these pieces highlight the melancholy nature of the cello.

The mood changes and Zagor is again accompanist on Dance of the Elves by David Popper (1843 – 1913) a very prominent Hungarian cellist who sat with the Budapest String Quartet in premiering Brahms’ Third String Trio. Next is also a cheery piece, Serenade by Gaspar Cassadó (1897 – 1966), a Spanish cellist taught by Casals. Marta is joined by pianist Yu-Lien The, both on this track, and also on a video clip on the Michigan State website for students and faculty. It’s a charming and delightful piece.

Prayer from a Jewish Life by Ernest Bloch, with Zagor on piano, turns the mood sombre, and Haobing Zhu plays piano in Sang Tong’s Fantasy, with a strong oriental flavour. The Latvian Pētris Vasks (b. 1946) contributes Pianissimo from Grāmata Čellam  which really is not very quiet, and features unusual sounds from the cello, and the first evidence of Marta Bagratuni’s very pleasant singing voice, in a vocalise style.

Marta’s voice is again heard in Ihor Sonevytsky’s (1926 – 2006) From Your Loving Kindness, a tender Ukrainian poem set to music. The mood shifts to strikingly contemporary as Mark Summer’s Julie – O is performed with Marta on cello and  wordless voice, and Judson Branham IV on percussion. Mark is long-time cellist for the Turtle Island String Quartet, and this is a very popular piece with cellists.

Likely the most familiar piece on the disc is Fratres by Arvo Pȁrt the renowned Estonian minimalist, creator of the tintinnabuli technique of composition, and the most performed contemporary composer for the last few years. This is one of many arrangements of Fratres which started as a string quartet, and here is set for solo cello (Marta Bagratuni) and piano (Yu-Lien The). It is haunting and transcendent music. The final cut is a commission for this recording,  Gem Rose by Vache Sarafyan (b.1966) an Armenian compatriot of the Bagratunis. Zoe Brunell accompanies on percussion, mostly tubular bells. And presumably the text that Marta sings is Armenian.

Indeed that’s my major hang-up with this disc – the lack of information about selections, composers, instrumentation, accompanists, everything. The performances and sound quality are very good, but the packaging is mystifying – starting with a striking but unflattering portrait of Marta, and three unrelated and unreferenced pieces of art in space where more information could have been presented). Some more funding from the crowd might have produced a more helpful package. But the music is great.

TrackList:

  1. Sonata for Cello Duo in G Major: Andante
  2. Sonata for Cello Duo in G Major: Adagio
  3. Sonata for Cello Duo in G Major: Allegro Prestissimo
  4. Adagio for Two Cellos
  5. Une Larme/A Tear
  6. Sentimental Waltz
  7. Elfentanz/Dance of the Elves
  8. Sérénade
  9. Prayer from a Jewish Life
  10. Fantasy
  11. Pianissimo from Grȁmata Čellam
  12. From Your Loving Kindness
  13. Julie – O
  14. Fratres
  15. A Gem Rose

—Paul Kennedy

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