Complete in itself, the ECM debut of Armenian pianist Lusine Grigoryan can also be considered a companion volume to the Gurdjieff Ensemble’s critically-acclaimed album of Komitas’s music (ECM 2451), and was recorded at the same 2015 session in Lugano, directed by Manfred Eicher. The two albums cast light on Komitas’s music from different directions. Where Levon Eskenian’s versions with the Gurdjieff Ensemble explored the composer’s sonic inspirations with folk instruments, Lusine Grigoryan conveys some of the same colours with her wide palette of piano articulation and her exploration of timbral possibilities: in her playing one can catch some of the textures of the folk instruments that captured Komitas’s imagination. As Paul Griffiths observes in the liner text, “In Lusine Grigoryan, Komitas’s piano music has an interpreter deeply versed not just in what is on the page but in the whole folk music background. Her legato phrasing might suggest the duduk, her staccatos the tar; drums and zurna are here, too, together with a folk-like flexibility of rhythm. She also achieves a mysterious presence in her playing such as is typical of rural or ritual music.”
Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935) is revered as the instigator of contemporary music in Armenia. Poet, priest and ethnomusicologist, as well as singer and composer, he explored the full range of his country’s musical history and wrote music that found points of contact between sacred and secular tradition. His piano pieces are mostly based upon Armenian folk songs and dances.
The “Seven Songs” of the album title form the sequence Yot Yerg, composed in 1911. They consist both of appeals to Nature and descriptions of it. Msho Shoror, “a vast dance scene” inspired by the mountain region of Sasun, is also comprised of seven movements, while Yot Par takes the form seven dances, each evoking the sonority of Armenian folk instruments.
Lusine Grigoryan was born in Gyumri, Armenia, and studied at the music school of Akhuryan, and the Kara-Murza Music College. She continued her musical education at the Yerevan State Komitas Conservatory, and completed her graduate studies under Professor Robert Shugarov. Parallel to classical music, Lusine also studied folk music interpretation, thoroughly researching the works of Komitas and Bela Bartók also from this perspective. Her interpretation of Komitas' works has been praised both for its originality and its faithfulness to the composer’s vision.
Music composed – or collected and transformed – by Komitas has been heard on a number of ECM recordings over the years, beginning with Kim Kashkashian’s album Hayren: Music of Komitas and Tigran Mansurian, in 2000. Since then, Komitas has been an inspiration for a very wide cast of musicians, from jazz improvisers to classical interpreters. Although the Gurdjieff Ensemble’s album Komitas was the first ECM disc entirely devoted to the Armenian composer, his work can be heard on albums by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble (Officium Novum), Anja Lechner and François Couturier (Moderato Cantabile), Norma Winstone (Stories Yet To Tell), and Glauco Venier (Miniatures). Tigran Hamasyan’s Luys I Luso embraced Komitas in its broad sweep of Armenian sacred music, and Komitas compositions served as a basis for improvisation on Atmosphères by the quartet of Hamasyan, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang. Savina Yannatou’s Songs of Thessaloniki, meanwhile, includes one of Komitas’s folk song adaptations.