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J.N. Hummel
Rondo a favori
J.S. Bach (F.Busoni)
  • Organ Chorale Prelude “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ”
  • Organ Chorale Prelude “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland”
L. van Beethoven
Sonata No.23 in F Minor, Op.57, “Appassionata”

S. Rachmaninoff
  • Prelude in G Major
  • Prelude in G-sharp Minor
  • Prelude in G Minor
  • Polka de W.R.
C. Saint-Saens (F. Liszt, V. Horowitz)
Danse Macabre
F. Liszt (V. Horowitz)
Hungarian Rhapsody No.2

Vazgen Vartanian: The Birth of the Spirit of Music

(A Musico-Philosophical Study of the Performance Art of Vazgen Vartanian)

Today, in the modern concert arena, it is not at all easy to distinguish oneself: the technical and creative mastery of modern piano culture has grown immeasurably. That, which at the time of European romanticism (and it was precisely at that time that the art of performance acquired the stature of autonomy within the field of musical creativity, as well as a hitherto unknown range), seemed practically unplayable, today is technically attainable by any successful conservatory graduate. Today, various schools of performance exist; gifted performers present their mastery before the tribune of the general public.

And even in spite of all this variety of manner and style, Vazgen Vartanian's art possesses an absolutely individual, inimitable quality. His manner of performing is a far cry from the customary standard. In contrast to stagnated interpretative stereotypes, his style of performance has unique characteristic features developed by mentally conjuring the profile (in this case connoting the personality) of the composer and his works and never fails to impart to the music a taste of freshness and astringency, an extraordinary quality.

His playing is warm, impetuous and possesses an enormous explosive force, sharpness, deliberation, boldness and character. It is incredibly virtuosic, so conceptually individual and complete that what he performs literally storms into one's memory and makes one's soul richer.

What is the secret of this uniqueness?

A particular quality of Vartanian's style is his freedom. It is as natural as breathing. It pierces through to the very core of the work, weaves through the entire fabric of the music being born under his fingers. The freedom of Vartanian's style of playing expresses itself in an absolutely individual interpretation, in the delicacy of inflection, variety of tempo, even within an individual segment of the work, theme or phrase in that happens to be in question. He prefers character and the uniqueness of his own vision rather than exactness. Undoubtedly, freedom of interpretation is an absolutely inalienable right of any talented performer. Nevertheless, it is precisely this attribute of Vartanian's manner of playing that evokes the disapproval of academically-minded critics. Let us try to delve into the essence of the interpretative freedom of the pianist, to disclose its sources and meaning.

When one listens to Vartanian's playing, an impression of author's own spirit tenaciously surges. The secret here, so it seems, consists of two possible sources of creative inspiration: one can proceed from the text or from the spirit of the music. Both have a direct relation to the music but, in spite of this, different interpretations form- an academic kind, in the case of fidelity to the text, or a romantic one, revealing the spirit of the music, can be implemented. Correspondingly, there are different creative approaches, one that could be defined as performer-oriented, the other as authoritative.

The stance of the author and performer (unless they are one and the same) are principally different in approach. A performer proceeds from the text, behind which he sees the music and transports it to the listener. The author proceeds from the music, from his inner feelings giving birth to the music, the text being of secondary importance. An indication for the author only has meaning insofar as it is capable of transmitting the aural fabric of the music, more or less accurately, therefore, not only does the composer have the power to treat the text freely, but such an attitude lies in the very essence of his creativity. For example, Chopin's famous rubato, as described by his contemporaries: according to them, Chopin's performance always sounded as though it were an improvisation; they distinguished themselves by varying in character. The rigidness of Bach's organ and keyboard performances of his own music did not originate in fidelity to the text of a complex polyphonic fabric, but in the very strict character of his own Protestant soul.

Academic musical mastery demands exactness in relation to the text and fidelity to the indications. Thus, music as such exists in academic cultures of musical performance - as works of filigree precision containing in themselves representative forms, truly beautiful models deliberately “hung-up” as if they had been created for a pedigree show.

Such music is already quite removed from its creator; it exists on its own, it divests itself; and so fidelity to it itself, and NOT to its creator, becomes the ideal of academic culture of performance.

European musical culture, over the period of several centuries, acquired the ability to channel feelings into precise rhythmic formulas, quadratic schemes and formulate them into harmonic sequences and polished forms. Nevertheless, the metaphysical essence of music exists not only inside, but on top, outside of its sculpted frames.

So why should we not see freedom of performance style as a means of the emancipation of the very Spirit of Music, thus bringing it to life?

Vartanian's romantic style of performance is absolutely authoritative, improvisational. He delves into the very depth of the soul of the composer; he feels his pulse; he follows his elusiveness, as well as his integrity of feeling. He proceeds from the very essence of music to singular details. In the works that he performs, feelings have their own life, newly recreated in the mysterious connection between the fingers of the performer and the keys of the piano; they do not exist as separate, detached objects of perception, eventually destined for recreation. This is precisely why his interpretations are free of cliches. He sensitively listens through to the musical text and finds in it something that he imparts to its character, but which has never been brought out by anyone else.

Listening to Vazgen Vartanian play, the first impression one gets is the complete absence of posturing, either before, during or after the performance. Vartanian doesn't “labor” at the piano; at least the titanic tension, both physical and emotional-spiritual, which inevitably accumulate during the performance of a large number of such highlighted treasures of the repertoire, is not visible. He sits upright at the piano showing emotion neither by extraneous movement nor by mimicry, monitoring exclusively the ritual proceedings of his own hands, their subtle, intangible union with the piano keys, from which emanate artistic wonders of the highest order. The agility of his hands is divine; the power of his pianism is titanic. This surprising fusion of elemental force and levity, colossal power and airborne quality, passionate drama and piercing tenderness, is a characteristic feature of Vazgen Vartanian's unique style.

A particular feature of Vartanian's performance - enabling the creation of deep, significant, variegated concepts are abruptly surging accents, suddenly delineating sensible polyphonic lines within the complex fabric of the work, practically non-existent in the interpretations of other performers.

His pedaling is sparse and rational; it is defined by a quest for exactness, emphasis and linear graphic. His foot “breathes” on the pedal, just as his fingers “breathe” on the keys. His pedaling is subordinate to neither rhythm nor harmony, but to inflectional expressiveness, spiritual movement. It follows melodic contour, it “awaits its time”, its particular designation is the creation of a musical concept.

Vazgen Vartanian always captures the spirit of the very essence of the composer's creativity and molds his performance to it. His multi-faceted technique never throws itself in the face of the listener; even though he stirs him with phenomenal perfection. He does not revel in difficulties, he does not demonstrate his technical perfection; it always serves solely as a means of achievement of certain artistic goals; stereotypes are anathema to it. The intricacy of texture becomes unnoticeable under his control while the concepts and feelings that come to the fore when he plays are suffering, love, deep tenderness, dreamy reveries, explosive force, deep concentration. Vartanian's world of picturesqueness is enormous, born of his perfected pianistic art.

Vartanian's performance technique begins with the soul. “It is necessary to play with heart and fantasy”. So it seems the words of the outstanding pianist of the 20th century, Alfred Cortot, are effectively embodied in Vazgen Vartantian's style of performance. This masterful attainment, as well as the immaculate display of this fine art, uncompromisingly serve their main goal- the birth of the spirit of Music.

Tatyana Razbeglova
Translation: Antonio Gomes

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