Review: Tigran – a fable

As soon as I heard a fable by Tigran I thought of the painting Night and her Train of Stars by Edward Robert Hughes. There is a wonderfully dreamy feeling to this delicate, magical, romantic solo piano album, it transports you to ancient eastern lands by starlight, the gently tinkling shimmering piano and haunting vocals will lull a child to sleep. It is romantic because it is about passion, freedom and the exotic. But there is an exile’s loss in the coda which makes it a grown-up fable where you are reminded of your own loss and sadness.

Edward Robert Hughes - Night with her Train of Stars

Tigran is an Armenian pianist of whom Brad Mehldau said “There’s something original here [of Red Hail (of Pomegranate Seeds)] that excites me and makes me feel like, “Hmm, I haven’t heard that before.” Praise indeed!

Tigran won many prestigious piano prizes as a teenager and his early steps to fame remind me of my favourite classical pianist Krystian Zimerman who won the Warsaw Chopin Competition in 1975 at the age of 19. Tigran plays with Dhafer Youssef on the latter’s album Abu Nawas Rhapsody, with Mark Guiliana on drums. He doesn’t sit easily in any musical genre. Unlike Zimerman, Tigran seems at home in all musical settings from the Wigmore Hall to rock festivals. The noisy Clore Ballroom at the London Jazz Festival was soon silenced when he put his hands on the keyboard, a striking slight figure who blew us away wth his improvisation and stage presence.

A fable consists of solo piano interspersed with some very subtle electronics, whistling and voice. Most of the compositions are by Tigran, but even those not by him such as Someday my Prince will Come sound unmistakably his. There is a fairytale feel to this album which starts with the opening track Rain Shadow where the piano has a musical box feel, the notes chime like tiny bells. Although it is a solo piano album, Tigran’s voice adds a entrancing dimension, as does the whistling on several tracks. It is as if he is lost in a forest and is whistling to keep himself company. The tunes are instantly memorable, you find yourself humming with him as you are swept away by the magic.

Longing is my favourite track. It has a songlike melody which darkens as you realise this song is about exile. You are in an enchanted forest but it is far from home. Tigran has a gentle haunting voice and Armenian is a beautiful soft-sounding language. Electronics and overdubbing of voice provide a heavenly choir which float us away from our pain.

In the final track Mother, where are you? inspired by a medieval Armenian hymn, we are very gently brought back to earth, just like the ending of a dream. It is slower than the previous tracks, wistful and spacious, the perfect way to end a fable, there is no happy ending.

A fable Tigran Hamasyan, piano and voice, 2011

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