Music Review: Komitas

by Lusine GrigoryanECM
reviewed by John Malkin
Komitas album art

Komitas (1869–1935) was a poet, priest, singer, and composer whose music ushered in contemporary classical music in Armenia and influenced composers like Claude Debussy. Komitas: Seven Songs is an album of solo piano pieces performed with tender attention to detail by pianist Lusine Grigoryan, whose volume control, pedal sustain, and dynamic shifts in mood are all perfectly rendered. 

Grigoryan began playing piano when she was three years old and, like Komitas, is a student of folk music. “Almost all of Komitas’s works are based on folk songs and dances that he collected from Armenian villages,” she told S&H. “Songs and dances have always been unseparated from life, accompanying different labors, rituals. My memories and interest in folk songs comes from my summer vacations spent in an Armenian village, hearing peasants sing during their work and encountering rituals and dances. It’s why I felt this piano music so close and natural to me.” Perhaps more compositions would have been created by Komitas if he hadn’t been arrested in 1915 during the Armenian genocide. 

Lusine Grigoryan’s piano voicings are clear and distinct on songs like “Semplice” and deeply lyrical and mysterious on a set of 12 short songs titled “Pieces for Children.” On other songs—like “Yerangi” and “Merali”—folk rhythms and instruments are simulated on the piano with great finesse. Grigoryan says of the late Komitas, “His compositions are modal, with unique structure and rhythms giving the pianist the chance to express the deep capabilities of the piano with beautiful timbres, transparent bell-like crystalline sounds, and overtones.” 

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