Tigran Mansurian: Monodia

Kim Kashkashian, Leonidas Kavakos, Jan Garbarek, The Hilliard Ensemble, Münchener Kammerorchester, Christoph Poppen

2-CD23,90 out of print

Kim Kashkashian’s advocacy of the music of Tigran Mansurian led to last year’s critically-acclaimed “Hayren” album. Now comes a fuller portrait of Armenia’s foremost composer. This double album, made with Mansurian’s participation, includes premiere recordings of works of the last decade, in which Kashkashian is variously joined by Christoph Poppen and the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Jan Garbarek, and the Hilliard Ensemble, while Leonidas Kavakos is the soloist in the 1981 Concert for Violin and Orchestra. An extraordinary cast, doing justice to extraordinary music. “Monodia” is certain to be a much-discussed recording

Featured Artists Recorded

November 2001 & January 2002

  • CD 1
  • "...and then I was in time again" - Concerto for viola and orchestra
    (Tigran Mansurian)
  • 1I. Allegro, quasi recitando12:52
  • 2II. Lento, cantando08:20
  • 3Concerto for violin and orchestra (1981) (for Oleg Kagan)
    (Tigran Mansurian)
    25:35
  • CD 2
  • 1Lachrymae (1999) (for soprano saxophone and viola) (for Kim kashkashian and Jan Garbarek)
    (Tigran Mansurian)
    07:10
  • Confessing with Faith
    (Traditional, Tigran Mansurian)
  • 2I. Moderato14:05
  • 3II. Andante07:18
  • 4III. Lento sostenuto, semplice05:20
Grammy Nomination 2005
Stereoplay, Klangtipp
 
ECM’s release last year of Hayren, a disc of extraordinary music by Tigran Mansurian, left me feeling impatient for the promised sequel. This is it – and it’s every bit as impressive as its predecessor. The hallmarks of Mansurian’s idiom are immediately recognizable: a contemporary European style fused to the ancient musical traditions of his native Armenia; a laconic but deeply expressive lyricism imbued with the pain of a terrible history yet sustained by a commitment to place, community and shared spiritual conviction; a complete absence of showiness or desire to ingratiate; and a mood of high seriousness leavened by an ability to be clear, direct and original.
Christopher Ballantine, International Record Review
 
Monodia … features three recent pieces dedicated to Kashkashian, a violist of Armenian descent. Kashkashian’s throaty, burnished tone cuts straight to the heart of “…and Then I Was in Time Again”, a concerto that vividly depicts a sense of the isolation and timelessness Mansurian found in Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”. In “Lachrymae” , Kashkashian joins saxophonist Jan Garbarek in an affecting tangle of lamenting lines; Garbarek’s keening microtonal slurs recall the sound of the duduk, an Armenian wind instrument. Kashkashian’s viola functions as a fifth member of a cappella consort the Hilliard Ensemble in the haunting, penitent “Confessing with Faith”. Completing the set, Leonidas Kavakos offers a gripping account of the composer’s luminous Violin Concerto…
Here and throughout Monodia Mansurian conjures a spare, absorbing beauty that richly repays pondering.
Steve Smith, Time Out New York
 
Tigran Mansurian connects through his work to cultural and emotional groundsprings that are important to him, particularly hints of indigenous Armenian music. He also takes note of his current musical environment, and this sense of inner and outer elements combining informs both the music on these discs and the way it is played – especially by fellow-Armenian Kim Kashkashian. … The Viola Concerto is both moving and mercurial, sometimes grounded in faith or earth, at other times clouded and troubled, even close to defiance… The economically scored Violin Concerto is again rich in unaccompanied material and Leonidas Kavakos seems to relish every note, especially in the many higher-reaching passages. … “Lachrymae” for soprano saxophone and viola finds Kashkashian and Garbarek intertwined in an embrace of pitches and textures, each adapting to, or mirroring, the other’s soundworld. “Confessing Faith” for viola and voices sets prayers by the 12th-century Armenian poet and musician St Nerses Shnorhali, its bold incantations scaling peaks of expressive intensity, especially whenever the countertenor David James enters. The viola’s warm and occasionally abrasive contribution acts as a sort of humanising presence.
Monodia set me thinking along various fronts. Firstly, about the strength and innate soulfulness of Kashkashian’s musicianship, so profoundly suited to the viola. Then the creative excitement of combining unlikely instrumental timbres, and the question of music bridging different faiths, or at the very least different branches of the same faith. … Balancing and sound quality are immaculate.
Rob Cowan, Gramophone
 
Tigran Mansurian is one of the most interesting composers to come from the former Soviet Union, an Armenian whose music is rich with historical allusions yet beating with a modern heart. His friend and champion, the violist Kim Kashkashian, is the soloist in the first of this twin CD’s two concertos, with the Violin Concerto equally brilliantly handled by the young Greek Leonidas Kavakos.
Andrew Clarke, The Independent
 
Die Verschmelzung altarmenischer Musiktraditionen mit zeitgenössischer westlicher Kompositionstechnik, die Mansurians Werk prägt, verweist auf eine nahezu vergangene musikalische Welt. Mansurians Musik handelt vom Erinnern. Der Titel der Doppel-CD mit dem Münchner Kammerorchester unter Christoph Poppen Monodia ergibt Sinn, weil die Stücke von der Aufhebung der monodischen armenischen Musik in eine sensibel ausgehörte Mehrstimmigkeit erzählen. Das gilt für die Konzerte und ihren Dialog zwischen Soloinstrument und polyphonem Orchesterklang genauso wie für die Begegnung zwischen Kashkashian und dem Hilliard Ensemble. ... Das Violinkonzert wirkt wie ein intensiver Monolog über das fast tonlose, in kleinen Sekund- und Terzintervallen in sich kreisende, von Mansurian so benannte „Kreuzthema“. Nur in den wild auffahrenden Gesten des kurzen Mittelteils wirkt der Solopart virtuos im herkömmlichen Sinn; atemberaubend, wie Leonid Kavakos ihn spielt. Es überwiegt der Eindruck von meditativer Ruhe. Darin ähnelt es dem Bratschenkonzert mit seinen weiten, aus einer klanglichen Keimzelle entwickelten und auf die armenische Volksmusik zurückweisenden Melodiebögen. Kim Kashkashian spannt sie mit beklemmender Intensität – jeder Ton ein Herzensanliegen.
Oswald Beaujean, Die Zeit – Literatur & Musik
 
“…and then I was in time again” – der schöne, einem Faulkner-Zitat entnommene Titel seines Violakonzerts dürfte programmatisch für den Effekt der gesamten CD für Tigran Mansurian sein: Mit diesem sorgfältig musizierten und gestalteten Werkportrait ist der armenische Komponist definitiv in der Gegenwart der Gemeinde der neuen Musik angekommen. Und zwar in jenem östlichen Segment, wo das Flair für die elegischen Untertöne erahnter Vergangenheiten sich mit einer geduldig schweifenden Fantasie paart. Wo unter einer milden Oberfläche musikalische Glut zu finden ist, die laut Mansurian Strukturen der armenischen Volksmusik entstamme und in Kim Kashkashian mit Klangtemperament und satt geerdetem Ton eine Ideale Interpretin findet.
Michael Eidenbenz, Tages-Anzeiger
 
An den Rändern der früheren Sowjetunion regt sich vielfältiges musikalisches Leben, das vom Münchner Label ECM seit zwanzig Jahren kontinuierlich dokumentiert wird. Jüngste Entdeckung ist der 1939 geborene armenische Komponist Tigran Mansurian, der die traditionelle Volks- und Kirchenmusik seiner Heimat mit europäischer Kunstmusik zu einer expressiven Tonsprache verbindet, in der die ganze leidvolle Geschichte seiner Heimat mitschwingt. Besonders ausgeprägt ist dies in „Lachrymae“ zu hören, wo sich das Sopransaxophon Jan Garbareks mit Kim Kashkashians Bratsche zum berührenden Klagegesang vereint, oder in „Confessing with Faith“ für Viola und vier Stimmen. Diese Vertonung von Gebetstexten eines armenischen Kirchenfürsten aus dem 12. Jahrhundert ist ebenso Glaubensbekenntnis wie inständiges Bitten und wird vom Hilliard-Ensemble eindringlich gestaltet. Mit Kim Kashkashian und Leonidas Kavakos stehen auch für die Konzert für Viola beziehungsweise Violine Solisten zur Verfügung, die zusammen mit dem Münchener Kammerorchester unter der Leitung von Christoph Poppen für glutvolle Interpretationen sorgen.
Jürg Huber, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
 
 
 
“All of my works are autobiographical, I have no choice” – Tigran Mansurian

ECM has documented many exceptional composers who emerged from the perimeter of the former Soviet Union: some who had found their voices despite the often severe limits placed on creative expression by Moscow, others who sought artistic freedom in exile. For Tigran Mansurian, leaving has never been an option. His life’s work is so intricately bound up with the culture, history and suffering of Armenia.

For some years now, violist Kim Kashkashian, herself of Armenian descent, has been one of Mansurian’s most dedicated champions, and “Monodia”, a two-disc set, is another of her initiatives. Here, she and producer Manfred Eicher bring together an exceptional cast to play Mansurian’s music in a two-CD set that amounts to a “composer portrait”. The four featured compositions are, as Mansurian puts it, messages-in-bottles from his beleaguered country. Included here are the viola concerto titled “And then I was in time again…”, written in 1995 and, like the piece for viola and voices “Confessing with Faith” (1998), dedicated to Kim Kashkashian. “Lachrymae”, written in 1999, is dedicated to its performers Kashkashian and Jan Garbarek. These three pieces are premiere recordings. Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos reinterprets the only older work on the set, 1981’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, an important piece in Mansurian’s musical development.

These recordings show the unique manner in which Mansurian’s music addresses both the development of contemporary music and the soundscapes of his troubled homeland, including its sacred and secular music traditions. As one critic wrote, “the involvement on the one side with 20th century classics, on the other hand with the music of his Armenian homeland distinguished Mansurian’s own idiom, his rigour, his seriousness, the sensitivity of his sound, and the precision of his formulations.”

Mansurian’s friends and contemporaries have included Arvo Pärt, Valentin Silvestrov, Sofia Gubaidulina, Giya Kancheli and the late Alfred Schnittke. If his music remains less well-known, this has been connected to his geographical isolation and his determination to remain in Armenia – despite the wars, earthquakes, power failures, massive unemployment, population exodus, and other catastrophes that have continued to plague the country.

“Monodia” follows the scene-setting album “Hayren”, issued last year, on which Mansurian appeared also as a performer, alongside American-Armenian violist Kim Kashkashian and American percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky, interpreting music of the great Armenian ethnomusicologist, folk song collector and composer Komitas. Tigran Mansurian: “The very first time I heard Kim Kashkashian play, I felt that the energy of her sound and the inner vitality of her phrasing originated from a characteristically Armenian source. From a place where economy of means is cultivated and ‘ploughing deep’ is the guiding principle.” Kashkashian and Mansurian have collaborated for more than a decade now. Ideas for the present recording began to take shape in 1999, when ECM helped to set up an “Armenian Night” (with the Mansurian/Kashkashian association at its centre) at the Bergen Festival. Jan Garbarek joined the proceedings there and members of the Yerevan Chamber Choir premiered “Confessing With Faith”, a work reprised on the present album with the Hilliard Ensemble.
Release of “Monodia” happens to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Hilliard Ensemble. Their account of “Confessing with Faith” marks the first time that Britain’s foremost vocal ensemble has sung in Armenian. The texts are by the 12th century mystic and Supreme Head of the Armenian Church, St Nerses Shnorhali. Shnorhali, revered as a distinguished spiritual leader achieved that feat which seems today all but an impossibility: he established harmonious relations among all the religious communities in the area.

“And then I was in time again” takes its title from William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”. As Hanspeter Krellmann notes in the CD booklet: “Faulkner uses an ingenious technique of superposition to conjure up not only a stream of consciousness but its reflection in reality and the imagination. Mansurian’s music transfers these same phenomena to an adjacent artistic level, redefining and transmuting them into acoustical images… The string writing ranges from unison passages and conglomerations of figures to individual forays by each of the eighteen instruments. The result is a wealth of sound-images that split apart and hover in space while remaining constantly interwoven within the temporal continuum. These sound-images give rise in turn to sonic moods. The free flux of the orchestral sound releases a wide range of dramatic gestures, especially in the first section of the concerto. But the accompanying instrumental ensemble maintains its status throughout as a seismograph of the progress of time.” Kim Kashkashian first performed Mansurian’s Viola Concerto”with the Münchener Kammerorchester under Christoph Poppen in 1997.

Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, whose recent ECM debut, playing Enescu and Ravel, was widely praised, brings his impetuous energies to the Violin Concerto which comes from an earlier period in Mansurian’s evolution.“It joins forces with the Second Cello Concerto and the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello (both composed in 1978) to form a substantive whole. In all three of these concertos (as in the later Viola Concerto) the orchestra consists entirely of strings, an instrumental limitation that vouchsafes a deliberate unity of timbre and sonority. The single-movement Violin Concerto assumes a special place in this triptych. Here, too, the solo instrument is given a wealth of solo passages. The violin dominates the musical stage like a brilliant soloist reveling in his own virtuosity. When heard without accompaniment, its expansive and virtuosic gestures are far closer to cadenzas than those of the Viola Concerto. Yet they too are precisely set down in notation…” The dialogues between soloist and answering strings are vividly directed by Christoph Poppen.

The plaintive mountaintop cry of Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek has inspired musicians as different as Miroslav Vitous and Giya Kancheli to new compositions. Garbarek’s yearning sound is well suited to Mansurian’s “Lachrymae” and well-matched with Kashkashian’s viola; both musicians convey a very ‘vocal’ quality in their phrasing and intonation. “Lachrymae”, Krellmann explains in the CD notes, “is divided between the two instruments in such a way that they share each other’s pitches, often playing in unison, only to emerge thereafter in a contrapuntal duet. The resultant impression is one of strict linearity, as in a Bach Two-Part Invention, while the saxophone and viola preserve the idiomatic flavor of their respective instrument in a freely expanding flow of melody. The listener hears two sound-sources of complementary rather than contrasting timbre. Their vibrations relate so strictly to each other that the lamentation seems to issue from a single source, imparting a fulfilled simplicity to Mansurian’s music.” (This closeness of sound, between soprano saxophone and viola, was to lead to further collaborations between Jan Garbarek and Kim Kashkashian…)