Tigran Mansurian

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Georgia Straight, Canada
Dec 16 2004

Classical Spin: Tigran Mansurian/Kim Kashkashian

By alexander varty

Monodia (ECM New Series)

According to Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian, interviewed in his new CD's liner notes, the essence of his country's music "reveals itself in an extreme frugality of expressive means. Whether intonation, rhythm or the shaping of tone colours--everything is employed very sparingly." Traditional Armenian melodies, he adds, "shift as slowly and laboriously as the search for fertile soil among the jagged Armenian rocks".

We're lucky, then, that Mansurian is a modern Armenian, open to global influences and not bound by his culture's often tragic past. He's happy to take advantage of a variety of expressive means--Monodia's two CDs feature a violin concerto, a viola concerto, a duet for viola and soprano saxophone, and a piece for viola and four voices--and although some of his charts can be both jagged and rocky, they also move with the quicksilver speed of the information age.

Typical of that is ...and then I was in time again, scored for Armenian-American violist Kim Kashkashian and the Münchener Kammerorchester. It's true that the overall pace of the work is more slow than not, and that its melodies have something of the keening quality typical of Armenian liturgical music. But emotionally, it can spin the listener from great heights of exaltation to bottomless despair in the course of a few short seconds. Though championed by Pierre Boulez, Mansurian does not share his Parisian mentor's technocratic bent; instead, he's concerned with finding sophisticated ways to project primal feelings of loss, sorrow, terror, and, occasionally, ecstatic peace.

That's especially obvious on Lachrymae, a haunting duo for Kashkashian and saxophonist Jan Garbarek. Here the resources really are few and the melodic material plain, but Mansurian frames them up as a kind of dialogue between hope and foreboding. Again, the music manages to be both harsh and eloquent; those stony fields lie deep in Mansurian's soul, but so too does a great deal of urbane intelligence.