Album Review: Songs Without Words/ Grigoryan Brothers


For their latest album Songs Without Words, (ABC Classics) guitarist brothers Slava and Leonard have gathered a collection of songs with and without words in novel and beautiful arrangements, by their father Edward for two guitars. The arrangements own a special understanding of the music and the performers; the playing by the brothers contains its own chemistry.

The guitar has an exceptionally long history. Its precursors stretch back through millennia and its reach, in many forms both folkloric and formal, spans many cultures. The repertoire on this album reflects this diversity.

Songs Without Words opens with the most formal of statements – an Arioso which serves as the opening Sinfonia in the Cantata BWV 156 by J S Bach (and also the slow movement from the Harpsichord Concerto No 5 in F minor, BWV 1056). The theme once stated, is gently ornamented in its recapitulation; the style of Bach’s writing eminently suited to the plucked sound of the guitar.

Fast forward to the 19th century and the songs of Dvořák, Faure, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Falla, Rachmaninoff and Ponce, all given a fresh perspective by playing with the melody, inventive rhythms and harmonies. Dvořák’s Songs My Mother Taught Me has dramatically new rhythmic patterns with the melody at first, emerging from the lower registers; Faure’s Après un rêve has a gorgeous new introduction before here too the melody emerges from the lower part.

Manuel de Falla’s Seven Spanish Songs will be a popular inclusion with the quintessential character of the Spanish guitar in evidence. The seven pieces, illustrate not only songs but regional dances as well. Rachmaninov’s Vocalise is a piece written for voice that calls on the continuity of sound that a singer creates; its adaptation for the guitar gives the melody a more short-lived sound. The phrases are sustained by dividing them between the two instruments, one guitar passing it to the other. The ephemeral sound also allows the focus to drift to the lavish harmonic writing underlying the melody.

Four chansons by Elgar (Chanson de matin opus 15, no 2 and Chanson de nuit opus 15 no 1) and Tchaikovsky (Chanson triste opus 40 no 2 and Chant sans paroles opus 2 no 3) are closed off with a charming version of Ponce’s Estrellita.

Recorded at Melbourne’s Sing Sing Studios in March 2017, Songs Without Words offers a fresh look at the melodies and harmonies of some classic songs without the overlay of words. It is a mesmerising collection of music played with refinement and sensitivity.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©



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