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Inspired in Armenia, played in L.A.

The Dilijan series, which blends European pieces and works by Armenian composers, begins a second season.

October 03, 2006|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

Dilijan is a forested Armenian resort town not far from Lake Sevan that has attracted composers and musicians over the decades. It is also the inspiration for the Dilijan Chamber Music Concert Series in faraway Los Angeles, which began its second season in the Colburn School's Zipper Concert Hall on Sunday afternoon.

So far, the launch seems to have taken hold. The series has a concept -- mixing standard European repertoire with works by Armenian composers -- a marvelously warm-sounding acoustical space, top-notch guest artists and a built-in audience from the L.A. area's vast, loyal Armenian community that filled most of the seats Sunday. And as the lineup of musicians indicated, you don't have to be Armenian to play.

In the field of new or overlooked repertoire, Dilijan scored big with the powerful Violin Sonata of Arno Babajanian (1921-1983), who may be the best-known Armenian composer in the West after Aram Khachaturian. Like Khachaturian, Babajanian was a nationalist who was never fashionable among the new-music gatekeepers, despite his embrace of serial ideas late in life. But this piece has universal substance amid the Armenian flavor, with its turbulent first movement themes and development, its ghostly interludes in the second and third movements, its laconically singing passages that recall Shostakovich.

Violinist Movses Pogossian -- who is also the artistic director of the Dilijan series -- audibly identified with this piece to his core, producing a particularly striking, thin yet taut steel-wire tone in the muted passages of the second movement. Pianist Robert Thies was his sympathetic partner.

The chief marquee name on the program was violinist Ani Kavafian, who with Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra violist Roland Kato and cellist Antonio Lysy offered a bustling rendition of Beethoven's String Trio, Opus 9, No. 1, whose skittering, whirlwind finale seems to anticipate the scherzos of Mendelssohn.

Then all five musicians came together in Brahms' mighty Piano Quintet in F minor -- conventionally paced, with enough virile weight, lush symphonic textures in the lower middle range, and streaks of vehemence in the scherzo and finale. Understandably, after this heavy main course, there were no encores.

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