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Elaine Annable
Features Writer
4:59 AM 31st December 2019

Review: Milana Sarukhanyan, Soprano, Ben Finlay, Cello

Airton Barn at the Friends Meeting House is the perfect setting for chamber music and brought a wonderful ambience and intimacy to this concert by Royal Academy students Milana Sarukhanyan and Ben Finlay.

Ben Finlay and Milana Sarukhanyan. Photo by Andy Ford
Ben Finlay and Milana Sarukhanyan. Photo by Andy Ford
The programme began with John Taverner's Akhmatova Songs, based on the work of Soviet modernist poet, Anna Akhmatova. Originally composed for soprano Patricia Rozari and cellist Steven Isserlis, it is strikingly evocative music which deserves to be heard more often.

Covering a wide emotional range, the Akhmatova Songs represent a perfect fusion of words and music and these two talented musicians did full justice to this unusual work, gradually drawing the listener into Tavener's unique sound world.

The otherworldly quality of this music was beautifully captured by Ukrainian soprano Milana Sarukhanyan, whose gorgeous full bodied tone and beautifully shaped vocal lines, was supported by the richness and sensitivity of Ben Finlay's cello playing.

Together they gave a mesmerising performance: Milana Sarukhanyan has a captivating stage presence and her acting through song is outstanding; as the piece reached a climax in 'Death' at the close of the work, you had the feeling that she had perfectly expressed the essence of what the composer was looking for, eloquently conveying the anticipation of death.

This was followed by a powerful, assured performance of Britten's Cello Suite No.2. For a work not considered to be an easy listen, Ben Finlay had his audience with him every step of the way, delivering a totally absorbing performance of a very challenging piece.

With an extremely secure technique and rich full tone throughout the cello's range, there was also a lovely vocal quality to his playing. As a musician myself, there are times when you recognise that a performer is 'in the zone' and this was one of those occasions.

The recital ended with a mix of Russian and Ukrainian folk songs, for which the talented Ben Finlay switched from cello to piano, providing a suitably sensitive accompaniment. These charming, more light-hearted songs allowed Milana Sarukhanyan to showcase the full range, not only of her dramatic, but also of her comic acting skills and was a delightful end to a bold and unusual programme.

An accomplished recital from two very talented young musicians with bright futures ahead of them.