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Tigran MANSURIAN (b. 1939)
String Quartet No. 1 (1983/4) [22:34]
String Quartet No. 2 (1984) [21:33]
Testament (2004) [4:58]
Rosamunde Quartett
rec. Propstei St. Gerold, May 2004
ECM NEW SERIES 1905 4763052 [49:26]

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Mansurianís numbered string quartets were written in quick succession, both as tributes to recently deceased friends.

The String Quartet No.1, in three movements of broadly equal length, was written between 1983 and 1984 and is dedicated to the memory of David Chandschian. The outer, mostly slow movements are elegiac and sorrowful. They frame a slightly more lively central movement, although the music remains restrained rather than angry and moves at a very moderate pace. All three movements are primarily melodic, subdued in expression but warmly expressive, albeit in a quiet, intimate and undemonstrative manner.

The String Quartet No.2, completed soon after its predecessor and dedicated to the memory of Eduard Chagagartzian, is also in three movements, ďall of them slowĒ. It has much in common with its predecessor. In this piece, the composer was somewhat influenced by ancient Armenian music (as so much else in his output) as well as by a song by Komitas, the latter another lasting influence on Mansurianís music. The music is again elegiac in character, bidding a deeply felt, peaceful farewell to the composerís friend.

Both string quartets are beautiful, profoundly moving pieces of great consolatory power and expressive strength, albeit in discreet and introspective. However, for all its apparent simplicity, Mansurianís music cannot be compared with what is now often referred to as Holy Minimalism or with, say, Kancheliís music that is often prone to dynamic extremes. Because of its predominantly melodic character, Mansurian is more linear and more coherent from a stylistic point of view. Some would define it as single-minded. Although this is partly true, it does not lack in contrast in spite of its apparent stylistic unity. In both quartets contrast is achieved through increased harmonic tension rather than by huge dynamic contrasts.

The short Testament, dedicated to Manfred Eicher, is a simple strophic song, though Ė again Ė its apparent simplicity is quite deceptive as is the musicís superficially archaic tone.

These splendid performances were recorded under the composerís supervision and have a strong ring of authenticity. They are not likely to be superseded anytime soon.

In short, a superb release, well up to ECMís consistently high standards. On the downside the short playing time is deplorable. I wonder why the earlier Interieur of 1972 - also for string quartet and lasting some eight minutes - as well as some other chamber work had not been recorded. This is a lost opportunity. That said, this very fine release will appeal to those who are already familiar with Mansurianís music, but also to all who respond to deeply felt and sincere music of this type.

Hubert Culot



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