Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Armenian Fantasies


Armenian duduk master Djivan Gasparyan is best known for being championed by Brian Eno and for his crossover collabarations with the Kronos Quartet, Canadian guitarist Michael Brook and others. Which is a pity because, as is so often the case, the genuine article is better than the crossover concoctions. For the real thing try the two gems of CDs on the German Network label seen in my accompanying images. They are titled Armenian Fantasies and Heavenly Duduk, both are quite wonderful but the latter is the one to go for if you like your duduk straight with no chasers.

Among the haunting tracks on Heavenly Duduk are two interpretations of songs by the celebrated Armenian musician Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935). Other Armenians influenced by Komitas include the composers Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) and Tigran Mansurian (b. 1937). Alan Hovhaness' music is well represented in the catalogue while ECM has done a commendable job of making the quite outstanding music of Tigran Mansurian available on disc. Monodia, an ECM double CD is an excellent introduction to Mansurian's music with contributions from Jan Garbarek, Kim Kashkashian and the Hilliard Ensemble. But the essence of Tigran Mansurian's music is captured best in the Rosamunde Quartett's ECM disc of his two bewitching string quartets, works which inexplicably have yet to find their rightful place in the quartet repertoire. Tigran Mansurian also features on a 2009 multi-composer CD release titled Neharót on which he plays his own piano arrangement of Komitas' lullaby Oror.

Komitas was a composer, musicologist and teacher and is recognised as the father of modern Armenian music. He was a priest in the Armenia Apostolic Church and his setting of the Divine Liturgy is still used today in the Armenian Church. At the start of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 Komitas was arrested and imprisoned in northern Central Anatolia. Following protests from influential figures including the US ambassador Komitas was released after fifteen days in captivity. But he never fully recovered from his experience and died in a psychiatric hospital in Paris twenty years later.

Despite continuing denial elsewhere Genocide Remembrance Day is marked in Armenia on April 24, which is also the very day in 1915 on which Komitas was arrested. On April 24, 2010 Tigran Mansurian's new work for cello and orchestra Ubi est Abel frater tuus? (Where is your brother Abel? Genesis 4:9) is being premiered in Cologne. In a programme on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday Norman Lebrecht contrived to link this premiere with the interruption of a recent Wigmore Hall concert by Palestinian protesters and argue that music and politics should not be mixed. Sadly it is a futile argument. Deeply disturbing things happen in the real world and if classical music is to have any relevance at all those nightmares must be reflected in the concert hall.

* The premiere of Tigran Mansurian's Ubi est Abel frater tuus? is being broadcast/webcast live at 20.15h German time on April 24 on WDR 3 Konzert. (Time converter here). Jan Vogler is the cello soloist and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln is conducted by Semyon Bychkov. The other works in the programme are Silvestre Revueltas' La noche de los Mayas (1939) and Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps (1911-1913).


Now read another view on the political dimension of the artist.
Both Djivan Gasparyan CDs were bought at retail as were all Tigran Mansurian discs mentioned with the exception of Neharót which was supplied as a review sample by ECM . Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

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