Author: Mark Pullinger
Who was Komitas? He was an Armenian priest, composer, choirmaster and ethnomusicologist, born Soghomon Soghomonian (1869-1935), and is widely considered the founder of the Armenian national school of music. In 1906, after a concert and lecture in Paris, Claude Debussy, no less, knelt before him, kissed his hand and exclaimed: ‘I bow before your genius, Reverend Father.’ During the Armenian genocide in 1915, Komitas was deported to a prison camp by the Ottoman government, from which he emerged mentally scarred.
Komitas’s music has made a few appearances in Gramophone’s pages, notably an album of music for violin and piano by Sergey and Lusine Khachatryan (Naïve, 1/16). It has an appealing, folk-like quality and his music forms the basis of this attractive album from French mezzo-soprano Eva Zaïcik, pianist Xénia Maliarevitch and Armenian violinist David Haroutunian.
‘Komitas is the voice of the land of Armenia, of its churches and stones, which for thousands of years have remained silent’, writes Haroutunian in the booklet note. Their album pays tribute to Komitas, along with his heir, the French-Armenian composer Garbis Aprikian, a pupil of Olivier Messiaen, now 97 years old. Aprikian’s Petite suite nuptiale, composed for his son’s wedding, makes use of melodies his emigrant father sang to him when he was a child in Alexandria.
Titled ‘Mayrig: To Armenian Mothers’, the album has a haunting, nostalgic quality, the songs mainly lullabies (three are titled as such) or folk melodies, many in arrangements for the chamber forces here. It includes a short work each by Parsegh Ganatchian and Hakob Aghabab.
Zaïcik has a lovely, light mezzo, with beautiful cantabile lines. In his booklet note, Aprikian praises her meticulous pronunciation. Even Komitas’s dances for piano have an elegiac quality, played felicitously by Maliarevitch. Haroutunian’s violin tone is silky without being saccharine. This album was obviously a labour of love, which comes across in both the performances and the presentation (song texts printed in beautiful Armenian script along with French and English translations). It should appeal to anyone curious to discover more about the roots of the Armenian musical tradition.