Nareh Arghamanyan proffers a personality and technique that thrives on performing Romantic music, and it was her Rachmaninov and Schumann that were most impressive in a recital that also featured the Second Bach Partita.
By Susan Miron
The current line-up of recitals on the Sunday Concert Series at the Gardner Museum favors the tried and true (Music from Marlboro) and young stars who have won a competition (or two, three, or four). Yesterday’s recitalist, the 23- year-old, Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, in a diaphanous, red gown with waist-length hair pulled back, not only participated in Marlboro but has won several competitions and garnered some very fancy awards. Hers is a personality and technique that thrives on performing Romantic music, and it was her Rachmaninov and Schumann that were most impressive on a recital that also featured the Second Bach Partita.
Bach’s Six Keyboard Partitas, published between 1726–1730, are among his most popular keyboard works, published after his (much more difficult) six English Suites and his six French Suites. Each of the partitas opens in a distinct fashion, and the Second Partita begins with a slow sinfonia, which Ms. Arghamanyan played with harp-like rolled chords, washes of luscious sound that might not be everyone’s taste, for sure, but quite like the sound I get playing this piece on the harp. (Perhaps this leaves me unable to be duly critical). Bach performances are hard to pull off without raising eyebrows in this town: everyone has very serious opinions about performance practice; everyone has his or her favorite performers. Deviations from what people think is correct, or even good, are not particularly welcomed.
This said, some of the qualities that stuck me about Ms. Arghamanyan’s Bach were the very virtues that are perhaps better suited for the pieces that followed—a poetic temperament and an unusually prominent and eloquent left hand. Ms. Arghamanyan has won kudos for her Bach (hear her on YouTube Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1, #8, Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major) but here, her fast movements (the end of the Sinfonia, the Rondeau, and Capriccio) approached warp speed and sounded a tad blurry. Others sounded somewhat idiosyncratic. Perhaps this was just youthful enthusiasm.
Robert Schumann’s “Fantasiestücke” Opus 12, are a collection of eight pieces written for piano in 1838, two years before he stopped writing incessantly and solely for piano. One of the important music journalists of his day, Schumann often composed with his favorite fictional characters in mind. He created many of these figures in 1831: Eusebius represented his dreamy side, Florestan his passionate side. These two appear in no less than four of his major piano compositions, including one of his most successful, “Carnival.” They play more than bit parts in “Fantasiestücke,” and Ms. Arghamanyan performed these virtuosic pieces with real personality and a fine sense of line. She captured Schumann’s mercurial moods and, in “Des Abends,” teased out his gorgeous melodies to the point that it sounded like one of Schumann’s songs, only without words. It was a lyrical and often dreamy performance, contrasting with an extremely fast “Traumeswirren,” which was dizzyingly exciting.
One of the pieces on Ms. Arghamayan’s debut CD is by Rachmaninov (his Second Sonata); she is an excellent interpreter of his music. Her first set, “Morceaux de fantaisie” Op. 3 (Fantasiestücke in French!), includes Elégie in E-flat minor, Mélodie in E Major, and the too-famous Prélude in C-sharp minor (“The Bells of Moscow”), which Rachmaninov was said to have grown horribly sick of hearing. All three received ravishing performances. Six of the composer’s “Etudes tableaus, Op. 33 (1911), a virtuosic exploration of textures and sonorities, ended the concert, with Ms. Arghamanyan leaving behind striking memories of drama, beauty, and a great red dress.