Two Pianos – Orchestral Transcriptions

[NUNOTE 5] Orchestral music selections of Alexander Kaloian in their transcription for Two Pianos Four and Six Hands
Twenty years ago or so, a then teen-aged Shushan Avagyan visiting me from Armenia, asked me to play “Shoukah” (1996) for her parents Aram and Satenik – when trying to help me find the right piece from my recordings, she said to play the one that sounds like “old Armenia” –

“Shoukah” being the Armenian for covered-marketplace, as is the intended setting of the original orchestral Tone Poem. And in that moment, never before in the history of music had a composer been so well understood —

Dances for Double Strings and Harp (2002) is a multi-movement work with one of those tendencies to keep expanding, the number of movements varying from 3 to 7 and beyond, depending on the circumstances in which it is intended for presentation. Three movements are the first iteration of the published score for Double Strings – that is a full compliment of Violins I and II, Viola, Cello and Contrabass, with one full set on Stage Right, the other on Stage Left with a Harp planted firmly in-between – consisting of Armenian Dance I, Hungarian Dance and German Dance. The remaining three Armenian Dances on this recording are also quite succinct and deliver a more firm bottoming weight to the international presentation. It would stand to reason that more Armenian offerings be punched out as then the listener is taken on a westward travel to Hungary with its modalities, then firmly ending in Germany with a contradance, albeit historically speaking about two centuries hinter.

In Scotland (1996) is another orchestral tome poem that invokes a particular national scene, which could very well be the setting for a ballet. Missing in the Two Pianos Six Hands transcription are the Snare and Field Drums which help propel the troupe, but the transcription works well as the rhythm does pulse through the 12/8 melody and opposing cross rhythms of the players.

Introduction to a Drama (1995) is a short orchestral overture that could be presented in front of any play or suitable drama – it is in a serious tone of G-minor, and is one of the few pieces on this disc with the Two Pianos and Four Hands, most of the other transcriptions being the Two Pianos Six Hands requiring that third player, generally sitting on Piano I to the left of the Piano I Primo who is getting to play most of the melody.

Procession of the Prince (1996) is another orchestral tone poem, for a regular sized Orchestra (with English Horn) and is decidedly not especially complex to play, but does require a very good ensemble to effect the overall mood, particularly in the quiet passages. There are sections where the upper Strings and Harp must whisper, and then we hear the English Horn, which is a required instrument for any truly effective Armenian tone poem.

Seven Veil Dance (2002) would be the largest ensemble of the works in transcription for this recording, being a Large Orchestra including doubled Winds and 8 Horns. A few Trombone glissandi are decidedly absent from the Two Pianos Six Hands, as are the exciting shimmer of the Percussion, with those typical Kaloian Tambourine, Triangle and metal shimmers of Gongs in all sizes. I think often of my now-deceased mentor in percussion John Bergamo and how he would have very much liked the idea of a twirling young dancer losing her coverings one-veil-at-a-time to this percussive accompaniment. I am sure he is still drumming away in a celestial lair somewhere in the heavens – meeting up from time to time with Frank Zappa to recreate their Live in New York concert album with John’s extended percussion solo. For us back here on Earth, we can use these tone poems to take us back to Shushan’s envisioned Old Armenia, with its colors and spices, and gambol in the excitement of waiting for that final veil to fly off in an orchestral explosion.

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Released 2 December, 2016