Mansurian is perhaps a name unfamiliar to many in Western
Europe. He doesn’t get even a mention in Norman Lebrecht’s ‘Complete
Companion to 20th Century Music’ which is a
serious omission. I have to admit that I was introduced
to his work not so very long ago by a student of the Conservatoire
where I work, with the performance of some of his songs
and chamber work in a lunchtime concert. The ECM booklet
is typically enigmatic in terms of biographical information,
but a quick web search will tell you that Mansurian was
born in Beirut, his parents moving to Armenia in 1947.
He has since become one of Armenia’s leading composers.
His early work was serial in orientation, but his mature
oeuvre has a more modal character, and such are the works
on this disc.
writes movingly on the subject of the poet Yeghishe Charents,
who was born in 1897 and died in Yerevan (where Mansurian
now lives) in 1937, a victim of Stalin’s persecutions. ‘The
sound and the pliant rhythms of his poetry … form the roots
and the point of departure of my music. The sound is the
rough quality of Charents’ language, the consonants reminiscent
of heaps of boulders, the seemingly torn poetic forms.’ Mansuarian
has chosen poems relating to the relationship between life
and poetry, the ‘ars poetica’ theme which is a recurring
motif in Charents’ work. The poems are given only in English
translation in the booklet, but the imagery is clear, and
Mansurian’s settings sympathetic – most often expressive,
but rhythmically pungent and energetic where required.
is easily accessible music, quite often simply written
in largely homophonic choral settings, allowing the poetry
to speak as directly as possible without elaborate contrapuntal
trickery or overly complicated word-painting. These pieces
were written over an extended period of time, the composer
only working on the project ‘when the music itself yearned
to be composed.’ Such personal and honest expressions deserve
recognition, and ECM is once again to be congratulated
on their refreshingly adventurous programming.
Armenian Chamber Choir is a superbly disciplined and well
integrated ensemble – no unwelcome diva’s poking through
the choral texture. Only in the final extended movement, And
Silence Descends, does a soprano rise in a climactic,
arching musical gesture above the rest of the choir. You
wouldn’t know that this was a live recording, and there
are no extraneous noises. Readers who cherish Michael Nyman’s
1989 ‘Out of the Ruins’ will understand a little of what
I mean about the special choral sound which both recordings
share. There is a resonance in the Armenian language which
you just do not get in Western choirs, or even Russian
ones for that matter – a certain glottal openness which
gives the music a timeless, ageless quality.
a little over 45 minutes you may think this is a little
on the short side, but there is plenty going on here, and
Mansurian’s work with this poetry deserves to stand alone.
Lovers of beautifully composed choral music should treat
themselves to this recording, and those seeking to discover
a new name will not be disappointed.