Narek Arutyunian clarinetist in ReviewNarek Arutyunian clarinetist in Review Steven Beck, piano Merkin Concert Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY December 13, 2011
Music is a form of communication, transference of ideas from the player to the audience. This would seem to be the motivation behind any performance, and yet, many performances fall short of this goal for a myriad of reasons. Narek Arutyunian, 19 year old clarinetist, and a winner of the 2010 Young Concert Artists International Audition, is first and foremost a storyteller, in the tradition of the best folk artists. He brings his considerable talent, facility, and appreciation of his heritage to refine this tradition into art.
Mr. Arutyunian’s most notable strengths are his big, well supported tone and flair for the dramatic gesture. He was at his best in repertoire that drew upon his natural affinity for specific genres. In the first movement of the Poulenc Sonata for clarinet and piano, his interpretation had, as in much of Poulenc’s music, a schizophrenic nature to it, sounding alternately suave and unhinged. The following Romanza ventured beyond Poulenc’s marking of “Tres Calme” into a wrenching and painful lament. Only in the concluding “Allegro con Fuoco”, however, did the clarinetist’s distinctive bright and polished sound find a perfect fit for this glittering concoction.
Each half of the recital contained a work that exploited popular genres, either to develop a theme (Jean Francaix’s Tema con Variazione) or to evoke the flavor of another culture (Paul Schoenfield’s Four Souvenirs). Mr. Arutyunian dispatched both these compositions with great humor, musicality, and a jazz artist’s sense of rhythm. In the Francaix, his phrasing on the backbeat made both the lopsided Moderato and the quirkily accented grace note waltz come to life. Just as remarkably, he employed a singer’s phrasing in the Gershwinesque Larghetto and a pristine white tone in the Adagio to great effect. Even more impressive was the Schoenfield, in which he showed a complete mastery of each of the four miniatures, most especially in the melancholy Tango, a cousin to the Depression era song, “Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?”
Joseph Horovitz’ Sonatina is a well crafted, idiomatic piece of writing for the clarinet, but unmistakably of its time, polite and superficial. Both this and the Sonata by Edison Denisov filled niches on the program, one for its lightness, the other for its unconventionality. That said, Mr. Arutyunian made strong cases for each. Only in von Weber’s Grand Duo Concertant did I feel that the clarinetist’s extroverted and highly subjective approach didn’t really work. The swift and sparkling passagework of the Rondo was terrific, but elsewhere his playing seemed forced both in tone and rhythm. This is a style which requires the player to emerge from within the structure of the music.
Two truly entertaining encores brought the program to a close. Mr. Arutyunian’s partner in this recital, the pianist Steven Beck, is simply a wonder. He plays beautifully, with unfaltering rhythm and technique, sharp ears and keen intelligence. Their collaboration was seamless.
Narek Arutyunian is already an accomplished and exciting player who is generous to his audience. I look forward to hearing more from him as he continues to grow artistically.