Album Review: Grigoryan Brothers – The Seasons

Last month saw the release of The Seasons from the Melbourne-based Grigoryan Brothers, Slava and Leonard.

The brothers play together in several guises and ensembles – Band of Brothers, Saffire –  and have recorded together a number of times, but this is their second titled as “Grigoryan Brothers”. When you check out their website you realise just how prolific they’ve been as recording artists in the last decade or so – 

This latest album ,The Seasons, is a twelve-movement work originally written for solo piano by the quintessentially Romantic Russian composer Pyotr Illich Tchaikovsky. The Seasons features one movement for every month of the year, with a mood and feeling conveyed typical of that month (from a Russian perspective) and has been artfully arranged for two guitars by Slava and Leonard’s father Edward.

Apparently Slava has played parts of this suite as solo pieces for a number of years, according to a reasonably reliable source of mine. The brothers’ father has slaved away on producing a duo transcription of The Seasons suite over the last few years to deliver this gem and it has been well worth the effort.

So what do I reckon then?

Tchaikovsky on guitar. Hmmm, I thought. Surely this is akin to an elephant riding a tricycle – it’s just not going to fit! Grandiose Russian romantic music, a composer well known for using the full might of the symphonic orchestra*. Oh me of little faith! I didn’t reckon on the very skilful transcribing skills of Grigoryan Senior. All of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent, balletic qualities are not only retained, but seductively enhanced by the Grigoryans. This is testament not not only to the marvelous transcriptions, but also to the immense talent that these two brothers possess.

The album is a real aural delight. As one may expect from the Grigoryans, the playing is exemplary – that almost goes without saying! – and the majority of the time the two guitarists sound as one, being so clearly matched. One thing that stands out very clearly for me in this recording, and something that I noted in particular right from the very first listen, is the tone quality produced throughout the entire suite. It’s really quite striking in its richness, fullness – bright and clear when required, yet producing such a big, fat juicy watermelon of a sound. You can almost drink the juice dripping out of the speakers. The tone quality produced in “January (By The Fireside)” from about 1min 20sec mark had me drooling. Deeeelicious!

Not that their tone quality was all that shabby on earlier recordings (such as 2009’s Distance), but there’s something a little extra special here. I’m not sure what it is – recording technique,  change in technique, the Redgate guitars bedding in, or combination of the above. Whatever it is, keep doing it because it sounds flipping awesome!

Aside from “January (By The Fireside)” , the “stand out” track for me on the album is “May (White Nights)” which is a gently lilting lullaby-esque piece. This track is simply delightful – that beautiful tone to the fore, with an unfussy arrangement really letting the elegant musical lines shine through. I was also really struck by “August (The Harvest)” contains elements quite low in the guitar’s register, with a gorgeous, superbly rich and sonorous quality.

But don’t just take my word on this, go and check it out for yourself. You can head to the album website and have a listen to “June”, a rolling Russian folk theme-inflected barcarolle

In summary this is a great recording – a fantastic arrangement, adding some new repertoire into the mix (can you publish the sheet music please guys?!), a very accessible recording with definite appeal outside guitarist circles, and demonstrates that our very best guitarists are still very going from strength to strength.

If you’re headed to Adelaide for the Festival be sure to catch them live tomorrow (Thursday 9th August) with a world première performance of The Seasons.

The album is out now on Which Way Records. Do yourself a favour and grab a copy.

* Having said that transcriptions from piano generally tend to work pretty effectively on the guitar – see Albeniz’s Suite Espanola, Peter Maxwell-Davis Farewell to Stromness, and a number of excellent transcriptions of Debussy piano works that work fantastically on guitar.