Tigran Mansurian: Requiem (ECM New Series 2508)

2508 X

Tigran Mansurian
Requiem

Anja Petersen soprano
Andrew Redmond bass
RIAS Kammerchor
Münchener Kammerorchester

Alexander Liebreich conductor
Recorded January 2016, Jesus-Christus-Kirche Dahlem, Berlin
Engineers: Peter Laenger and Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: March 17, 2017

ECM’s sixth album dedicated to Tigran Mansurian is a reference recording of his Requiem. Dedicated to victims of the Armenian genocide in Turkey that killed approximately one million people between 1915 and 1917, and composed a century later, it blends Continental and Orthodox traditions in a manner that is as unexpected as it is creatable by no other author. “The essence of the problem,” notes Mansurian of his process this time around, “was the existence of certain differences in the readings of religious texts between the Armenian Church and, say, the Roman Catholic Church. The psychology of a believer who represents a nation that has long been without an independent state differs sharply from the psychology of a believer at whose back stands a powerful religious community and centuries of independent statehood.” In this respect, he isn’t simply composing in a liminal space but also inviting the listener to light a candle in that space and pray in its glow.

A requiem challenges anyone wishing to write one, and for some has been a rite of passage. Mansurian struggled with the form for years, writing a handful of distinct attempts before abandoning them in favor of the one gifted to us here. Although scored for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus and string orchestra, its collective spirit renders those solo roles—filled with emotional veracity by Anja Petersen and Andrew Redmond, respectively—in the “Tuba mirum” and “Domine Jesu Christe” as something more than representational; rather, they are two rays in a sun’s worth of individual voices. In humbler terms, their relationship to the larger assembly is as leaves to a tree, crying for acknowledgment with what little water they have left before their severed roots catch up with them. Such acts of violence, themselves stemming from a dark place, nevertheless confirm God’s grace to pull tortured souls from a tragic world into one that never trembles in fear of mortal sin.

Before we tread too deeply into these forests of mirrors, we begin with an airier “Requiem aeternam,” in which unrequited lives hold their hearts in their hands. Strings shift eerily from foreground to background in metaphysical exchange, presaging their playful relationship to choral motives in the “Kyrie.” Dances are brief and unsustainable, flowing like two separate rivers joining to cascade over the cliff of the “Dies irae.” Their urgency is jagged yet interlocking: a puzzle of mortality putting itself together despite our best attempts to upset it. The suspended animation of the “Lacrimosa” is echoed in the meditative “Agnus Dei,” and between them an insistent “Sanctus” which creates its own call and response of spirit, flesh, and remembrance.

Listening to Mansurian’s Requiem is like watching a film that weaves archival footage into freshly choreographed scenes of historical reckoning. It’s as if the cover image, depicting Armenian deportees trekking through the desert toward Aleppo, Syria, were coming to life, every figure contributing to the prescience of the whole, shaking their heads at what we have become.

Tigran Mansurian: Quasi parlando (ECM New Series 2323)

2323 X

Tigran Mansurian
Quasi parlando

Patricia Kopatchinskaja violin
Anja Lechner violoncello
Amsterdam Sinfonietta
Candida Thompson concertmaster
Recorded October 2012, Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, Amsterdam
Engineers: Peter Laenger and Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher

ECM’s ongoing relationship with Tigran Mansurian yields what is perhaps the Armenian composer’s most integral archive yet. In a program of works spanning nearly three and a half decades, Quasi parlando brings together a roster of committed interpreters—musicians who live and breathe in order to allow the music of underrepresented composers that same privilege on an international stage. Yet if the image of a stage seems too formal for music that emerges as a butterfly from its chrysalis, it’s because Mansurian does not write music to be validated by the fleeting sanctity of the concert hall. Rather, he builds it as a craftsman would a piece of furniture, so that every joint fits without need for the glue of representation. In this respect, analogies fall short of his mastery even as they feel necessary to make sense of the darkness therein.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Anja Lechner are the respective soloists of the Double Concerto for violin, violoncello and string orchestra. Composed in 1978, it is the earliest work on the program and consists of two Largo movements. The first, marked “concentrando” (indicating an intensification of tone over time), is a concentric maze from opposite sides of which the lone cello and barely dancing violin seek an interactive center. Even when distanced by walls and dead ends, they share a certain elasticity of purpose that inhales even as it exhales. Only when the internal geometries of their capture begin to waver in the emerging chaos do open double stops cry through barriers toward their asymptotic meeting. Each instrument occupies its space at intervals of unaccompanied reset, inspiring the orchestra to unravel itself, one vine at a time. Yet where the effect here is exponential in the manner of a Fibonacci sequence, the second movement follows its designation of “sostenuto” (sustained) by means of a rhythmic core. From this extend tendrils of memory, guiding a single droplet of experience from mountaintop to river. A resolute tenderness ensues, creating suspension in a dream of lucid impulse.

The two pieces that follow are the disc’s most recent. Romance (2011) for violin and string orchestra once again features Kopatchinskaja, to whom it is also dedicated. In characteristic fashion, Mansurian constantly shifts the role of soloist and orchestra, as if between cause and effect, or among tiles in a sliding puzzle. Each aspect of its ungraspable emotions has the constitution of an after-effect. Kopatchinskaja emphasizes this and so much more, treating her bow as kindling to a growing fire that looses controlled tongues in every unaccompanied breath. The 2012 title composition for violoncello and string orchestra also bears dedication to its soloist. Lechner’s role, however, is more integrated, very much a part of the ecosystem in which it finds itself. Though possessed of a kindred robustness in its unaccompanied passages, the writing for cello abides by an even more self-directed faith in its own surroundings. There are quiet triumphs in this piece, intersections of light and cloud that stay locked in place through the simple act of acknowledging them, left to drift only by the final pizzicato strum.

Mansurian’s Second Violin Concerto carries the subtitle Four Serious Songs” (2006), a translucent bridge perhaps to Johannes Brahms’s scriptural settings of the same name. Compared to the music that came before, these movements come across with consistency. Denser and of more mournful quality, they morph from teeth to ribbons toward a final, subterranean resolve, following the magma to its womb.

If Mansurian’s corpus is a truth, then we are its clothing of mystery. It hides nothing of itself, but is hidden by our knowing of it. Let this be a lesson, then, unto the hit-and-run listener: you will leave a scar unless you tend to the wound of your interruption.

(To hear samples of Quasi parlance, click here.)

Tigran Mansurian: String Quartets (ECM New Series 1905)

 

Tigran Mansurian
String Quartets

Rosamunde Quartett
Andreas Reiner violin
Simon Fordham violin
Helmut Nicolai viola
Anja Lechner violoncello
Recorded May 2004 at Propstei St. Gerold
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

It was not until his 40s that Tigran Mansurian at last wrenched out the two string quartets presented on this captivating disc. Already known for his labored approach, the Armenian composer has given us in these works something deeply profound and lasting for the genre. Yet in listening to this music, one gets the sense that genre is farthest from his mind. Both quartets are solemn statements for late friends David Chandschian and Eduard Chagagortzian. “The basic idea is to develop a musical style out of the principles of the Armenian language,” says first violinist Andreas Reiner, “and especially out of its stylized expression of grief.” With this in mind, we find that Mansurian’s capillary approach is like an expression of social power, whereby the bane of politics and displacement is dissolved in the tincture of an unfettered melody, in its careful arrangement of musical lines through the discovery of some emotional truth. Each strand of these quartets bows like a spider’s web cast in the wind, tethered to something behind the clouds.

Although both quartets take a three-movement structure, with two somber skins surrounding an active middle, any articulations of shape and size are rendered in moonlight alone, for these quartets are decidedly nocturnal, emphasized by their watery reflections. The Allegretto of the String Quartet N° 1 (1983-1984), for instance, reflects the glow of a moon obscured rather than its direct glittering light. It is unerring in its consistency, in its residual presence. The Agitato unfolds with an unsettling grace, anchored down by an active yet firmly earthbound cello line. This erratic dance is strangely consolatory. A descent carries us into quieter recapitulations, during which the viola sings with singularity. Any rhythmic urgency therein is picked apart by siren calls blending into the Maestoto. Moments of confluence in tutti add graceful flourishes to the inscription, ending in solace.

Mansurian’s quartets describe a world in which both the surface and the interior of the self, and of the material objects with which that self engages, are one and the same, participating as they do in a wider mediation between flesh and spirit. It is a reciprocal relationship, a symbiosis of sound and its notation. And so, the opening Andante of the String Quartet N° 2 (1984) is, while an inversion of the often declamatory instatement of a new piece, appreciative of the shadow that lies within, so that by its end we are not filled with anticipation but rather with the acceptance of the awakening pizzicati and dynamic phrasings in the Larghetto. The final Andante also works its way in spindles, threads spun by candlelight in an evening where silence becomes audible as the humming of the plains, the trees, and the beating of one’s own heart.

The Rosamundes end this already full program with a more recent work. Testament (2004) bears dedication to producer Manfred Eicher, whose tireless efforts in spreading the wonders of such composers as Mansurian is duly felt here. This single Lento moves like an organ with its solemn vocal qualities, bringing us into communion with the promise of a misted evening star.

Many composers can make the individual voices of a string quartet sing, but how many can make them breathe? This music is respiration incarnate. It has been speaking to us since time began. We need only open our lungs to take it in.

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

 

Tigran Mansurian
Kim Kashkashian
Monodia

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.

 

Kim Kashkashian: Hayren (ECM New Series 1754)

 

Kim Kashkashian
Hayren

Kim Kashkashian viola
Robyn Schulkowsky percussion
Tigran Mansurian piano, voice
Recorded May 2000 at Teldec Studio, Berlin
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The music of Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian made its first ECM appearance on Alexei Lubimov’s Der Bote. Yet it wasn’t until violist Kim Kashkashian reflected deeply on her own Armenian roots that his sound-world, along with that of the nation’s treasure Komitas (a.k.a. Soghomon Soghomonian, 1869-1935), came into its deserved own. The result is a fortuitous one, not least because of Kashkashian’s unwavering dedication to her instrument and its limitless possibilities. Hayren interlocks Mansurian’s earthen sensitivities with Komitas’s visionary roots for a blend that is at once supra-paradigmatic and forged on a shared oral connection between those who perform and the very earth on which they stand. The program’s title deliberately evokes the poetic style much revered in Armenia, and the implications could hardly be more appropriate, for while Mansurian is like a brittle page, Komitas’s typography is bold and crisp.

Although the album is made up mostly of chamber pieces such as Havik, in which the viola seems on the verge of losing its foothold, surprises await us Mansurian not only takes to the piano but also adds his actual voice into the rippling waters of his surroundings. The polished arrangements encase every raw lullaby in a lantern, such that the quietude of songs like Garun a feels like the shadow of the dying light of Krunk. His is not a voice to be praised for its technical prowess, but one to languish in for its unabashed descriptiveness. Mansurian seems to mimic Kashkashian’s gravelly emotions, if not the other way around. This is music that flirts with pitch as the wind might with a tree branch: no matter how much it bends, its essential form remains intact. One can say the same for Chinar es, which feels on the verge of utter collapse from the weight of its openness. And it is a fine musician indeed who can become even more vocal in her instrumental rendition of Krunk, which while timorous is by virtue of its lilt a caress on whatever part of the brain is activated when we read moving literature. After an alluring piano solo in Oror, sounding like a plaintive interlude in an Eleni Karaindrou soundtrack, Kashkashian and percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky untie every subtle knot to be found in Mansurian’s Duet for viola and percussion. What starts as a soulful postlude burrows into an 18-minute cavern of living darkness. The melodies are self-aware, dented by marimbas and gongs, and point like a compass needle to the truest north that is incantation.

Hayren is an album that will likely require repeated listening. As for myself, I can only say it has grown with me into a rich and multilayered carving. Not unlike life itself, it is narrated by a thousand cryptic asides for every direct proclamation, and through this disparity achieves a mature sort of unity that is nothing if not honest.

Kashkashian always brings a personal dimension to her playing and perhaps nowhere more so than here. The intimacy of her interpretations is only enhanced by those of Mansurian, who continues to open our ears to the possibility of what lies already locked behind those cochlear doors.

Kim Kashkashian: Neharót (ECM New Series 2065)

 

Neharót

Kim Kashkashian viola
Münchener Kammerorchester
Alexander Liebreich conductor
Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Gil Rose conductor
Kuss Quartett
Recorded between 2006 and 2008 in the USA, Poland, and Germany
Engineers: Peter Laenger, Lech Dudzik, Gabriela Blicharz, Joel Gordon, John Newton, Blanton Alspaugh
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Neharót Neharót (2006/7) for viola solo, accordion, percussion, two string ensembles and tape by Israeli composer Betty Olivero opens a haunting album from violist Kim Kashkashian. It is a slow awakening—not into light, but into twilight—and swells with the wounds of fresh tragedy. Kashkashian arrives as if by wind and with the raw imperfection of an unpreened bird. The tone and feeling are not unlike that of John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil at its tensest moments. The strings roil like turgid waters in which eddy the relics of an unseen war. Two women’s voices reach into the storm with tendrils of mimicry. This call and response blossoms into a profound moment of rupture, at which point the orchestra and percussion spill over one another. Fragments of the audible past come through as snatches of Monteverdi quoted from his Orpheus and eighth book of madrigals. These recycled motifs are like a dream that quickly consumes itself before waking again. The viola rises in their place, seeming to run around frantically in search of the voices that so enlivened it. When they are nowhere to be found, the outcast wallows in the hopes that nightfall will be her cloak. But then the voices come back: the viola prostrates itself, fearing to expend the ancestral legacy it breathes. It wants nothing more than to offer gratitude, but can only contort itself into a vowel of need.

After such a profoundly draining journey, the three Armenian selections that follow are a welcome rest, though one not without its internal travels. Tigran Mansurian gives us his Tagh for the Funeral of the Lord for viola and percussion, Three Arias (Sung out the window facing Mount Ararat) (2008), and Oror, a lullaby by Komitas (1869-1935) arranged and performed here by Mansurian at the piano. The “tagh” is an ancient Armenian song, and Mansurian’s breathes with organic vitality. Its lament echoes across cold plains, the percussion a mere accent to the viola-driven melody. The Three Arias are essentially a series of orchestral swells with viola interludes, an audio essay of the music’s own origins and possible futures. The viola acts like a lens over a film sheet, trying to find the one picture that most clearly articulates something that can only be remembered through image, but that can only be musically described. The viola struggles with an unseen force in spite of its orchestral inheritance. A dazzling ending is made all the more so for the effort required of us to get there. And this is precisely what the piece is about: seeking out those moments that, in a life remembered, also define that life most clearly. Mansurian’s interludes are like the passage between two days, a conduit between continents and cultures, a subtle diaspora of sound.

And so, by the time we return to Israel in Eitan Steinberg’s Rava Deravin (2003) for viola and string quartet (the tile means “Favor of Favors”), we feel more fully prepared for any and all emotional obstacles. The piece was originally scored for voice and a mixed chamber ensemble, but was transcribed as the current version at Kashkashian’s behest; hence the accordion-like opening harmonics that speak of bellowed breath. Yet even before the music begins, the instrumentation tells us so much about what we are about to hear. We know the viola soloist has a second self, a ghost presence amid its accompanying quartet, and yet here it is at once extracted and embedded in its periphery, singing with its own voice even while knowing it has been long aligned with the larger organism behind it. When the quartet takes a more syncopated stance, we never lose sight of the abstract milieu in which it is situated. The viola must resign itself to self-division, and toward the end it squeals and scatters snake-like through tall grasses of harmonics. The music dies not by lowering itself in volume, but by pushing us away so gradually that by the time we notice the music has gone, we are already too far away to catch up with it.

Were the orchestra to be analogized as body, the viola would most certainly be the throat, for the vibrations of song rattle its chambers more than those of any other. In this respect, Kashkashian has given more lucid breath to this recording than to any other she has made. She only seems to get better with every draw of her bow, and her dedication once again remains paramount. This is a cohesive program of some of the most original music to come out of ECM in a long time. Not to be missed.

Tigran Mansurian: Ars Poetica (ECM New Series 1895)

 

 

Tigran Mansurian
Ars Poetica

Armenian Chamber Choir
Robert Mlkeyan conductor
Recorded June 6, 2003, Saghmosavank monastery, Armenia
Engineer: Garen Proyan
Produced by ECM

Ars Poetica is a choral “concerto” based on the poetry of Armenian writer Yegishe Charents (1897-1937). The language is rustic, bumpy, and delectable. The works of Charents, who suffered at the hands of the Stalinist regime and would die in a Yerevan prison for his politically “subversive” writings, were liberated with Stalin’s death in 1953. Likewise, his words seem to wrestle out of their national confines and onto the world stage through Tigran Mansurian’s faithful settings.

“Night” begins with breath; words are only implied, shaped by lips and lungs like rustling leaves. As the choir swells, a deeply affecting baritone solo intones: “But all was pale and dull around me, / No words were there, and there was no sun…” In this first of the Three Night Songs, we are ushered into a place where stillness is aflame. The Three Portraits of Women that follow turn our attention from the ethereal to the corporeal. Mansurian dresses these poems with darkness left over from the waning night. Lines such as “What Spirit was it that brushed / Your countenance in radiant strokes?” feel torn with pain, as if accepting the beauty of one’s love might lead to self-destruction in surrender. Archetypes of angels and maidens wander labyrinthine depths of their own making, impervious to the talons of words seeking purchase on their shoulders. Three Autumn Songs give us our first taste of sunlight trickling through the breaking clouds. Even so, melancholy is never far away, holding us in a lukewarm embrace as voices kneel before the awesome power of all that withers. And Silence Descends brings indefinite closure with a long untitled verse. Intermittent climaxes fall like sudden showers as a single soprano voice cuts through the din with a painful resignation. Language takes on yet another guise in the form of death, creeping along the streets and through back alleys, threatening to erase the text that is one’s existence from its sallow pages.

Mansurian’s compositional style is linguistically informed; not only because he is working with poetry that is already so very musical, but also because the Armenian language is such a vital part of Mansurian’s worldview and expressive deployment. Ars Poetica is a naked and vital work. It screams as its cries, whispering secrets and intimate thoughts as it careens through the cosmos with the quiet restraint of a meteor. Ultimately, it transcends language, bringing with it the promise of internal meanings through which orthography is wrung of its juices and fed to us drop by drop.