WORKS: Havik; Duet for viola & percussion; Garun a; Krunk (arr. Mansurian)
PERFORMER: Kim Kashkashian (viola), Robyn Schulkowsky (percussion), Tigran Mansurian (piano, voice)
CATALOGUE NO: 461 831-2
Only ECM could have come up with it: Armenian bonding, new composition on old roots, tributes to the folk-song collector and church musician of a century ago who called himself Komitas, all on a CD that headlines the viola player, Kim Kashkashian. Armenia having been the first Christian nation, the phrase curate’s egg springs to mind.
The better bits are at either end, when viola and percussion play pieces written for these musicians by Tigran Mansurian. The first opens in slow simple harmonies arpeggiated with a distinctive rhythmic twist, and becomes an instrumental transcription of the way Komitas used to sing a millennium-old melody, full of microtonal inflections. The second is a more abstract two-movement duo which tries to stir itself into an atonal allegro, collapses into Schnittke-like gloom, and ends in bleak fragments.
In between comes half an hour of Mansurian’s arrangements of Komitas songs. The melodies are strongly characterised, slow and ornate, effective when Mansurian plays them on the piano. He also sings them in a quiet, quavering voice – initially touching, but technically and expressively challenged until you feel you are intruding by mistake. Komitas’s voice, which can be heard in recorded collections, was a powerful baritone. Robert Maycock