Artist/s: Slava and Sharon Grigoryan
Category: Classical, New Music
Label: ABC Classic, ABC 481 8406
CD purchase: https://www.abcmusic.com.au/discography/slava-and-sharon-grigoryan-our-place
Reviewed by Philip Pogson
“This is a recording that many fine record labels across the globe would be proud to have released, both in terms of the talent and depth of the musicianship, and the sheer quality of the production values.”
Loretta Barnard’s recent book on Australian musical families, Kindred Chords, provides a timely reminder that musical dynasties are remarkably common across the broad gamut of musical genres. Our Place, which features celebrated, multi ARIA-winning guitarist, Slava Grigoryan and cellist, Sharon Grigoryan, until recently a member of the highly regarded Australian String Quartet, is a case in point. First of all, as might be guessed, Sharon and Slava are married. Our Place features a work written for them by Slava’s father, Edward. Slava’s brother, Leonard, with whom Slava has toured and recorded as a classical guitar duo, also makes a guest appearance on the final track. In addition, Slava and Leonard were both taught guitar by their violinist, composer, and arranger father. Their mother is also a professional musician, as are Sharon Grigoryan’s parents. Family has pride of place in Our Place.
Unlike some recordings where such pairings are assembled by a producer with a view to serving an identified commercial market, Sharon and Slava had performed together for five years before taking to the studio in 2019. This fact is reflected in the ease and quality of the ensemble playing, arrangements and original repertoire, most of which have been ‘worked in’ to their concerts over time. Also gratifying is the fact that the performers have largely avoided the conventional ‘go to’ popular Spanish repertoire – Granados, de Falla and Albeniz, for example – an over-worked content solution for classical guitarists.
There are several stand out tracks amongst a strong set list. Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel is a relatively well-known minimalist masterpiece which exists in several arrangements. The Grigoryans’ version is a gem. Sharon’s cello playing successfully negotiates the line between inward-focussed meditation and muted intensity that the score demands. Slava’s arrangement, assisted no doubt by amplification and excellent studio production, effectively translates the arpeggiated accompaniment, originally written for the piano, to the sound world of the classical guitar. The alchemy of Spiegel im Spiegel is that it somehow transports the listener to another plane while remaining largely static harmonically, rhythmically, and melodically. This is no doubt one reason why those that love Pärt, the reclusive Estonian master, view him as a kind of seer, while his detractors just don’t see what the fuss is all about!
Sérgio Assad, one half of the famed Assad Brothers classical guitar duo, is represented by Jobiniana No. 4. This is a scintillating work, written as an homage to the Brazilian composer, Antônio Carlos Jobim. As is often the case with South American composers who use popular rhythms and song structures as the broad framework for their compositions, it is easy to get swept up in the exuberance and miss the sophisticated compositional processes in play. It all sounds so easy, as is the case with great jazz composers. Jobiniana No. 4 gives the duo a real work out and they more than rise to the challenge.
Austrian jazz guitarist, Wolfgang Muthspiel is a globally recognised artist based in Vienna. He has toured with Slava Grigoryan and American guitarist, Ralph Towner, as a guitar trio. The title of his Dark Silk refers to the fact it was written for the baritone guitar, the only time on the album where Slava uses this lower form of the instrument. Adopting a ternary form structure, an intense cello theme, gloriously brought to life by Sharon (the opening notes are magical), is followed by what sounds like an improvised middle section from Slava before the melody returns. If anything, Dark Silk finished too soon to my ears, I wanted to hear more.
Edward Grigoryan’s Ngeringa is difficult to categorise, somehow combining a romantic cello theme with invocations of two different native frogs, in a convincing manner. Composed as a gift to the couple, Slava writes that, ‘it’s one of my favourite compositions of Dad’s.’ This was one of the tracks where I felt the longevity of the duo came to the fore as they transitioned smoothly between the many changes of mood and texture.
Astor Piazzoll’s music takes the stage twice, in Café 1930 and Ave Maria. In the latter, the soundscape is deepened and broadened in Slava’s arrangement by the addition of Leonard Grigoryan playing second guitar. In a recording featuring many ravishingly rendered cello solos, this track raises the bar. Sharon Grigoryan leans into the bed of sound created by the clever, resonant arrangement, and simply plays her heart out. I found it incredibly moving and played the track 3-4 times over. Piazzolla was never one to shy away from creating heart-tugging melodies, tunes that if written by a lesser mortal may have never risen above the stuff of Sunday afternoon parlour room performance. But then Piazzolla was no lesser mortal.
Fluido, the opening movement of Reflexões No. 6, a three-movement suite by Bolivian born, Brazilian resident, Jaime Zenamon, lives up to its title, suspending a long cello line over a fast, virtuosic accompaniment. The melancholic middle movement, Doloroso, makes use of a slow habanera-like rhythm. Vivissimo is exuberant and exuberantly performed. Originally composed for cello/guitar duo, Reflexões No. 6 is scored very effectively for both instruments. As with most tracks on Our Place, it is a pairing of equals.
It would not be appropriate to close this review without noting the production, sound engineering, editing, mixing and mastering skills of Alex Stinson – he is credited with all the above in the liner notes – and the ABC Classic team led at the time this album was recorded by Executive Producer, Hugh Robertson. ‘World Class’ is a term that is bandied about all too frequently in Australia. It has largely lost its meaning in a country where it sometimes seems that everyone is above average. But tom my mind this is a recording that many fine record labels across the globe would be proud to have released, both in terms of the talent and depth of the musicianship, and the sheer quality of the production values.
If only the arts and music were more highly valued across this nation, a definer even, of what it is to live in ‘our place’.