Tigran Mansurian/Kim Kashkashian: Monodia (ECM New Series 1850/51)


Tigran Mansurian
Kim Kashkashian

Kim Kashkashian viola
Leonidas Kavakos violin
Münchener Kammerorchester
Christoph Poppen conductor
Jan Garbarek soprano saxophone
The Hilliard Ensemble
David James counter-tenor
Rogers Covey-Crump tenor
Andreas Hirtreiter tenor
Gordon Jones baritone
Recorded November 2001, Himmelfahrtskirche Sendling, München and January 2002, Propstei St. Gerold
Engineers: Stephan Schellmann and Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire…
–William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Monodia represents the invaluable efforts of violist Kim Kashkashian to bring Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian onto the world stage. During this journey of discovery she was fortunate enough to have found in Manfred Eicher the ideal partner to ensure that this exposure be done properly and with the utmost respect. The composer’s homeland may not be visible in the flow of information that saturates mainstream media, but it is intensely audible in this landmark recording of a music and a culture that demands to be heard by virtue of the fact that it demands nothing at all.

Kashkashian brings her inimitable talents to bear upon “…and then I was in time again, a viola concerto written in 1995. The title comes from Faulkner, whose inky nooks harbor shades of meaning whereby the light of experience comes to be similarly refracted through the prism of the mind. Kashkashian’s harmonic whispers usher us into a world in which the viola not only sings, but also speaks. Through a sometimes-tortured narrative, Kashkashian externalizes the music’s inner life through her fearless translational abilities. The orchestra’s lower registers are favored here, so that the violas echo Kashkashian en masse, thereby drawing a genealogical thread from Allegro to Lento in a twin birth of lament and knowledge. As throughout, peace is hard to come by even in the absence of the occasional high-pitched interjections, each a sketch of histories long atrophied.

If we began rooted in time, in the Concerto for violin and orchestra (1981) we are left to fend far outside of it. After the earthy tones of the viola, the violin hangs from a much thinner thread, ever poised on the brink of a sudden fall. The soloist here is Leonidas Kavakos, who begins, as violin concertos are wont to do, somewhere above our heads. Kavakos underscores the solitude that permeates the score, emerging like an orphaned cub taking his first tentative steps across the forest floor. Sunlight works its way through the mists, spreading its fingers wide between the branches and coaxing the world back to life. The opening motive, while inaugural in its first appearance, is a powerfully disruptive force when it returns halfway through the piece. Its violence and fear spawn a thousand voices singing with agitated lyricism. Low strings sweep us under a watery carpet before spitting us out onto the shores of something oddly familial.

This sense of lineage continues in the 1999 Lachrymae for soprano saxophone (played here by Jan Garbarek) and viola. The patterns traced here are not unlike those on the CD’s cover, meeting as they do in a rosette of mystical curves through human rendering. Like an incantation, the music’s implications far exceed its means, for in the lingering echoes of this piece we can hear our own tears hoping for the curing touch of moonlight. A quintessential New Series piece from two of ECM’s finest musicians.

Lastly is Confessing with Faith (1998), for which Kashkashian is joined by the Hilliard Ensemble in evoking texts by St. Nerses the Graceful (1102-1173). The gut-wrenching depth of her playing here must be heard to be appreciated, and with the Hilliards its secrets become even more complex. One can’t help but feel that the voices are being spun from the same threads, as if to more fully flesh out that which already resides in the instrument. Once countertenor David James breaks from the gloomy waves, he dances with the viola in a lithe display of melodic inertia. Agitated tremolos enlarge the feeling of solitude, letting in a spirited round: one river overtaking another in a bed of tenors. James is resplendent in his delicate high lines from which hang the piece’s final mobiles. The viola is given the final word, which feels more like the first, drawing out a double stop as if it were a pair of lungs about to pray.

Sing a new song to Him who rose,
First fruits of life of them that sleep.


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