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Gomidas VARTABED (1869-1935)
Gomidas Songs (arr. orch. Serouj Kradjian)
see end of review for listing
Isabel Bayrakdarian (soprano)
Chamber Players of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra/Eduard Topchjan
Serouj Kradjian (piano)
rec. Aram Khachaturian Philharmonic Hall, Yerevan, Armenia, 28-29, 31 August, 1, 3-4 September 2005. DDD
NONESUCH 511487-2 [55.10]
Experience Classicsonline

As stated in the notes accompanying the CD, Gomidas Vartabed was an Armenian composer, singer, ethnomusicologist, choirmaster and pedagogue. His true name was Soghomon Soghomonian but when he eventually took monastic vows and became a Vartabed (celibate priest), he changed his name to Gomidas, as is the practice in the Armenian Church. His songs are compositions based on Armenian folk tunes that he researched throughout the country, then developed and arranged, always taking care to preserve their typical melodies and rhythms.
Pianist Serouj Kradjian who orchestrated all the songs for this recording and also wrote the notes to the CD booklet, mentions that Gomidas never composed an opera, a symphony, oratorio or concerto but that what he accomplished was actually greater. Gomidas cleansed Armenian music of all foreign influences and returned it to the people, therefore laying the foundations of a national music culture, which earned him the title of “father of Armenian classical music”.
Gomidas was arrested on 24 April 1915, which marked the beginning of the so-called Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire. Together with other Armenian notables, he was deported to a city in northern Central Anatolia. Luckily, some international dignitaries intervened with the government and Gomidas was sent back to the capital after approximately two weeks. It is said that he never recovered completely from the horrific experience of the Genocide. He eventually died in a psychiatric clinic, in Paris, in 1935. His ashes were transferred to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, the year after his death.
The works featured on this CD are extraordinarily evocative of a people, a landscape and a rich musical tradition. Never have I listened to songs that I enjoyed so much where the music and lyrics were alien to me. One does not need to understand the language or to be a native Armenian to feel deeply touched and moved. The credit for this achievement, however, does not belong entirely to Gomidas who created them or to Kradjian who orchestrated them but mostly to Isabel Bayrakdarian’s exquisitely beautiful voice.
As stated on her website, Ms Bayrakdarian was born in Lebanon of proud Armenian heritage and has now become a citizen of Canada. She moved with her family to Toronto as a teenager and her earliest singing experience was at church. She is married to Serouj Kradjian, who, as mentioned above, orchestrated the songs on this CD. She also holds an honours degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Toronto. Her singing is deeply personal, full of heartfelt sentiment and delicacy. Her tone is smooth, warm and pure; she is excellent in the lowest register of her voice and positively luminous in the highest; appearing equally comfortable when singing in mezza voce. She possesses a brilliant coloratura and an impeccable legato, expressively using her instrument and adapting it to the nature and meaning of each particular song.
Her voice is delightfully tender in Oror (Lullaby); delicate yet vivacious in Dzirani Dzar (Apricot Tree) and Karoon a (Spring); dazzling in Alakyaz / Khngi dzar (Mount Alakyaz / Incense Tree); loving and sweet in Akh Maral jan (Ah, Dear Maral). She can sound alluring yet innocent, powerful yet fragile; her voice is full of colour and contrast and these wonderful qualities come clearly across on this recording. Hers is a voice rich in harmonies and dramatic expression that will delight one no matter what she is singing.
I had never before listened to her and knew her name only from having read an article about her in the June 2005 issue of “Opera News”, the opera magazine from the Met in New York. Therefore, this CD constituted a wonderful surprise as well as a fascinating discovery. It not only revealed to me a truly beautiful voice but also motivated me to read and learn more about Armenia in general and that country’s music in particular.
The songs are lovingly and expertly orchestrated by Serouj Kradjian who also plays the piano, accompanying some of the pieces. The chamber players of the Armenian Philharmonic are excellent, effectively cushioning the soloist’s beautiful voice and never overwhelming it. Throughout the CD, they display a deep understanding of the music, of the characteristics of the human voice in general and of Bayrakdarian’s in particular. Together they have created a wonderful recording of Vartabed’s songs, transforming them into precious and rare gems. This music is traditional and evocative, yet universal in its melodic appeal.
Margarida Mota-Bull

Editor’s note
The extraordinary voice of Isabel Bayrakdarian may well be known to those who have seen the Two Towers (from the Lord of the Rings trilogy) where the film score is by Howard Shore. Shore heard one of Bayrakdarian CDs and this was the trigger for her involvement in the recording.   

1. Oror (Lullaby)
2. Gakavi Yerke (Song of the Partridge)
3. Manoogneroo Hayr mer (Children's Prayer) 
4. Work(s) - (Verginkn ambel e (The Cloudy Sky) / Antsrevn yegav (It' Raining))  
5. Dzirani Dzar (Apricot Tree)
6. Karron a (Spring) 
7. Work(s) - (Alakyaz (Mount Alakyaz) / Khngi dzar (Incense Tree))
8. Unabi (Dance of Unabi)
9. Shooshigi (Dance of Shooshig)
10. Keler tsoler (Striding, Beaming)
11. Work(s) - (Hoy Nazan (Oh Nazan) / Shakhgr shookhgr (Jingle-Jangle))
12. Akh Maral jan (Ah, Dear Maral)
13. Kele kele (Strolling)
14. Chinar es (Tall as the Poplar Tree)
15 Chem grna khagha (I Cannot Dance)
16. Ervoom em (I'm Burning With Love) / Shogher jan (Dear Shogher))
17. Voh inch kaghtsr pan (Oh, What a Delight!)
18. Groong (The Crane)
19. Andooni (Without a Home)
20. Tsayn door ov dzovag (Call to the Sea)


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