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RIAS Chamber Choir Berlin / Munich Chamber Orchestra
Alexander Liebreich, conductor

Tigran Mansurian has created a Requiem dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide that occurred in Turkey from 1915 to 1917. It reconciles the sound and sensibility of his country’s traditions with the Latin Requiem text in a profoundly moving contemporary composition, illuminated by the “glow of Armenian modality,” as Paul Griffiths puts it in his booklet essay. The work is a milestone for Mansurian, widely acknowledged as Armenia’s greatest composer. The Los Angeles Times has described his music as that “in which deep cultural pain is quieted through an eerily calm, heart-wrenching beauty.”

This album is the sixth to appear in ECM’s documentation of Mansurian’s work, a series that began with the scene-setting Hayren: Music of Komitas And Tigran Mansurian in 2003. That initial recording featured Kim Kashkashian – American violist of Armenian descent and a longstanding ECM artist – in league with Mansurian and percussionist Robin Schulkowsky as they explored the sound world of the iconic Armenian spiritual figure, composer and musicologist Komitas, a key inspiration for Mansurian.

Tigran Mansurian was born in 1939 in Beirut to Armenian parents and first attended school at a French Catholic institution. His family returned in 1947 to their native country, eventually settling in Yerevan, the capital. He graduated from the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory and later taught the analysis of contemporary music there, along with composing art songs, choral pieces, chamber music, orchestral works, a ballet and film scores. He developed friendly relationships with such performers as Natalya Gutman and Oleg Kagan, as well as fellow composers Edison Denisov, Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina and Arvo Pärt. In the early 1990s Mansurian took on the directorship of the Yerevan Conservatory, withdrawing in recent years to concentrate exclusively on composition.

After Hayren on ECM New Series came the Grammy Award-nominated album Monodia (2004), featuring Kashkashian, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, the Hilliard Ensemble and Munich Chamber Orchestra conducted by Christoph Poppen. Others discs are String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (2005), performed by the Rosamunde Quartett, and Ars Poetica (2006) with the Armenian Chamber Chorus under Robert Mikeyan. Most recently there has been Quasi Parlando (2014), a collection of concertante scores performed by violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, cellist Anja Lechner and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta led by Candida Thompson.

For Mansurian, adding a Requiem to this considerable body of work had its challenges, both philosophical and musical:

“The essence of the problem was the existence of certain differences in the readings of religious texts between the Armenian Church and, say, the Roman Catholic Church. The psychology of a believer who represents a nation that has long been without an independent state differs sharply from the psychology of a believer at whose back stands a powerful religious community and centuries of independent statehood. From the psychological viewpoint of an Armenian at prayer, the intonations in which we hear the Kyrie Eleison pronounced in the works of Bach or Beethoven, say, are almost entirely unlike a prayer: We hear something more like a demand addressed to the Almighty. So I had to decide who would sing my Requiem – would it be people from one tradition, or the other?

It became clear to me that the singers in my Requiem needed to possess the same psychology and character traits as the figures drawn in ancient Armenian manuscripts… At the same time, I was very attached to the Latin liturgical text. While setting it, under the powerful influence of ancient Armenian monodic music, it sometimes seemed that Latin words became Armenian in their phonetics. In a mystical moment, Latin would turn into Armenian… In those days, I discovered that the melody being sung carries within it the memory of the words with which it has come to life.”

In Mansurian’s Requiem, the liturgical-linguistic sensibilities of East and West thus commingle, as do musical techniques both ancient and modern. And if the work’s animating impulse – the memorial of epic human tragedy – remains, distressingly, timeless, so the emotional response of what Griffiths calls the “mindful ear” can be universal.

The work was co-commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra and the RIAS Choir Berlin, and the recording made in January 2016 at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche Dhalem, Berlin, with Manfred Eicher producing.

CD booklet includes an introductory note by Tigran Mansurian, liner notes by Paul Griffiths, the Latin text of the Requiem, and photographs. The cover image shows Armenian deportees on their way through the desert heading to Aleppo, Syria, a hundred years ago. 

© Studio Svengali, May 2024
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