Piano Trio in f# minor
Those who either hear or play Babajanian's Piano Trio for the first time almost immediately recognize that it is a stunning achievement which belongs in the repertoire.
If Arno Babajanian (1921-1983) is an unfamiliar name in the West, he is a national hero in his native Armenia and quite well known in Russia. Babajanian was born in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. By age 5, Babajanian’s extraordinary musical talent was clearly apparent, and the composer Aram Khachaturian suggested that the boy be given proper music training. Two years later, in 1928 at the age of 7, Babajanian entered the Yerevan Conservatory. In 1938, he continued his studies in Moscow with Vissarion Shebalin. He later returned to Yerevan, where from 1950-1956 he taught at the conservatory. It was during this period (1952) that he wrote the Piano Trio in f# sharp minor. It received immediate acclaim and was regarded as a masterpiece from the time of its premiere. Subsequently, he undertook concert tours throughout the Soviet Union and Europe. In 1971, he was named a People’s Artist of the Soviet Union. As a composer, Babajanian was active in most genres and even wrote many popular songs in collaboration with the leading poets such as Yevgeni Yevtushenko and Robert Rozhdestvensky among others. Much of Babajanian’s music is rooted in Armenian folk music and folklore. But generally, the way in which he uses Armenian folk music is in the virtuosic style of Rachmaninov and Khachaturian. His later works were influenced by Prokofiev and Bartók.
The Piano Trio is considered one of his most important works. In three substantial movements, it is passionate and full of memorable melodies with wonderful writing for all three instruments. The first movement, an Allegro, begins in dramatic fashion with the strings playing the main theme in unison. Like a leitmotif, this theme reappears in each of the following movements. The second movement, Andante, begins very softly with the violin introducing the lovely main theme high on its e-string. Eventually the cello joins in and the theme is intertwined between them in a very original fashion. The Finale, Allegro vivace, is rhythmically quite interesting. Mostly in 5/8 time, it features two themes which which stand in stark contrast to each other. The first is rather rough and aggressive while the second is softer and more song-like. The trio ends with appearance of the opening theme and leads to a short stormy coda.
Certainly this fine work needs to be heard in concert and should be a very attractive work for professional groups looking for a 20th century Soviet piano trio other than Shostakovich or Prokofiev. It is well within the reach of good amateur players who will appreciate the fine part writing.