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COMPOSERS: Mansurian
LABELS: ECM New Series
ALBUM TITLE: Mansurian
WORKS: Requiem
PERFORMER: RIAS Kammerchor; Munich Chamber Orchestra / Alexander Liebreich
CATALOGUE NO: 481 4101


All Armenian musicians – indeed, all Armenians – are haunted by the 1915 Genocide which Turkey still denies, and Tigran Mansurian’s oeuvre has gone at it from many different angles. This time it’s with a Requiem which deserves to take its place among the most distinguished examples of that genre. Mansurian says he’s made three failed shots at a Requiem over the last ten years, each foundering on the mismatch between Roman Catholic and Armenian readings of the text: the psychology of a believer who is part of a powerful religious community with a history of independent statehood is very different, he says, from that of an Armenian.

Mansurian has asked his singers to recreate the mood of ancient Armenian sacred manuscripts. And as Paul Griffiths explains in his illuminating liner-note, the churches’ respective conceptions of death are also different: Catholics believe the soul transmigrates at the moment of death, but Armenians believe departed souls are still present, and this work’s austere tenderness testifies to that belief.

The work opens with dark string harmonies followed by softly-percussive pizzicatos, and when the unison vocal line breaks in it is with a suggestion of Armenian modality. In the Kyrie there are inflections of both Armenian folksong and of what Komitas – Armenia’s greatest composer – did with that folksong in his three-part vocal arrangements. Mansurian’s sound-world is notably clean: time and again he juxtaposes orchestral unisons and stark instrumental effects with plainchant, yet burnished splendour is the result. Throughout the work there is a sense of musical worlds colliding and – in the Agnus Dei, where all emotion is washed pure – finally coalescing, in a symbolic meeting between heaven and earth. The performance has singular grace and power.

Michael Church


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