On Good Friday this year, I was in the main theatre of Yerevan, capital of Armenia, watching Spartacus, the famous ballet with music composed by Aram Khachaturian, today globally acknowledged as Armenia’s national composer.
You probably all have heard the famous romantic themes of this ballet and, like myself, had not delved into other works by this composer who remains indelibly linked to this ballet; that was till I had the privilege of listening to the Equinox Trio performing Khachaturian’s Trio for clarinet, violin and piano at the Actionbase Studio in the middle of Buskett last Monday.
I love what Equinox does. I am intrigued and I have grown to appreciate modern and contemporary music far more than I ever had before. The modern in this performance was represented by Aram Khachaturian and the contemporary by Veronique Vella, Edward Manukyan and Ruben Zahra.
It seemed almost too coincidental to be true to have a concert consisting of Armenian and Maltese music coming barely a couple of months after having visited Armenia in a study tour organised by the Faculty of Archaeology.
Armenia is not a country that is exactly on the main tourist map. It is intriguing rather than alluring. To describe it in a nutshell as a heap of rusty scrap metal would not be far from the truth, yet there is much more to it than that.
Its history alone, holocausts, diasporas and wares and earthquakes coupled with its passionate Christian roots set in a purely Islamic surround made up of Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan make it unique in that turbulent region which once all formed part of the Soviet Bloc.
Khachaturian represents an Armenia that was still sheltered and protected within that bloc with all its quixotic contrariness with regard to the arts, while Manukyan is a product of the Diaspora and whose trio has a movement called Homeland from Far Away.
Although full of ancient central Asian folk tunes, there was an echo of the yearning to regain the lands stolen from Armenia by Turkey.
Suffice it to say that all Yerevan can, on a clear day, rest its gaze upon Mount Ararat which symbolises Armenia’s religion but which now lies in Turkish territory.
Because our Easter trip coincided with the anniversary of the holocaust, or rather the genocide, there were a huge number of Armenians from all over the world who had gathered there to once again mourn the slaughter of their ancestors.
Despite the mosquito-ridden air, the Equinox Trio played with the style and precision that we have come to expect of it. The almost imperceptible jazzy undertones of the first movement of theKhachaturian were elegiac and rich in texture, while the slower second movement was delightfully elegiac leading to a toccata-like finale full of dark and vibrant colour.
I enjoyed the Veronique Vella Fjuri consisting of Sardinell, Passju and Peprina. I am amazed at her ability to describe in a few brushstrokes, an atmosphere or even an emotional landscape; it reminds me of a Chinese watercolour.
The fritillaric fluttering Sardinell, the incisive raindrops in Peprina paled into insignificance compared to the exquisitely wrought Passju, which describes that most curious of flowers; the Passion Flower with its nails and crown of thorns.Tatjana Chircop’s violin solo was pure lacework.
Out of the three movements of the Manukyan, I largely fell for Across the Rocky Mountains. I doubt the Americanised Manukyan was thinking of Mount Ararat at this juncture, but the exacting cadenzas for the various instruments were impressively performed, especially Lino Pirotta’s deeply expressive one on the clarinet.
Again, I had the opportunity to listen to Ruben Zahra’s Pan the Goat God with its four eclectic movements full of strong rhythm and brilliant colour that has associated itself with Picasso’s faun and satyr engravings and drawings, while the structure of the pieces reminds me of his portraits of Dora Mars, where although there could be the most alarming feature displacements, the beauty of the woman is as evident as the nose that is not in its place.
This is a lovely showpiece for the Equinox Trio and one in which the brilliance of Tricia Dawn William’s pianistic technique shines through in no uncertain terms. The tortured tensions that arise in waves of obstinate and uncompromising rhythm and the rich textures of the piece made a second live hearing as exciting as the first ; if not more so.