One of the finest I have heard
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Tigran MANSURIAN (b. 1939)
Anja Petersen (soprano)
Andrew Redmond (baritone)
Münchner Kammerorchester/Alexander Liebreich
rec. 2016, Jesus-Christus-Kirche Dhalem, Berlin ECM NEW SERIES 2508 [45:23]
Now regarded as Armenia’s greatest composer, Tigran Mansurian has been well represented by the ECM label, this being his sixth title from this source. We certainly seem to have come a long way since I reviewed his Ars Poetica back in 2006. Mansurian describes the many problems he had to resolve before arriving at this Requiem: "differences in the readings of religious texts as between the Armenian Church and, say, the Roman Catholic Church... So I had to decide who would sing my Requiem: would it be people from one tradition, or the other? Naturally I settled on the tradition to which I feel closer."
Using the traditional Latin text (printed in the booklet), Mansurian’s Requiem is dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide that occurred in Turkey from 1915 to 1917. The tides of human tragedy are illustrated by the cover photograph, showing deportees moving through the desert towards Aleppo in Syria – note, towards, where 100 years later the waves of refugees would be moving in the opposite direction. There is a very light hint of Shostakovich in some moments of the first section, Requiem Aeternam, for instance the gently recurring pizzicati, but with this kind of transparency in music there are likely to be all kinds of associations, depending on your own stockpile of memory.
Paul Griffiths’ booklet notes also mention some markers in this regard, such as Debussy in this same movement, but the melodic lines and harmonies are always suffused by the “glow of Armenian modality” as he puts it – musical material that may be familiar if you’ve ever explored the vocal folk music of that region. Syncopated rhythms animate the work Kirie in that section, contrasting with the plangently open chords and polyphony elsewhere. Not all is mournful reflection however, and the relative violence of the Dies irae leaps out at us as quite a shock. The music dips towards threatening strings bounced against by col legno bows, creating tremors in the air - perhaps shockwaves that spread like ripples on still water. The Tuba mirum is a timeless a capella movement right up to the last section, in which the ripples of the Dies irae rear up once again.
There is a stark, monumental beauty to the Lacrimosa, a slow-moving piece in which a great deal happens - the voices shadowed by the strings to create denser textures and complex harmonic resolutions that are chillingly never allowed the comfort of repose. This is the heart of the whole Requiem, having an irresistible magnetism that keeps bringing me back for more. This Lacrimosa is a deeply moving statement that has dignity and the kind of tenderness that is also marble-hard in its inner strength. Intensity that rivals that of the Dies irae is experienced in the Domine Jesu Christe, high choral voices racking up the tension as the strings accompany with stabbing chords and repeated crescendo/tremulo gestures. This is all rounded of in a luminous coda, a baritone solo balancing that of the soprano's opening.
The Sanctus creates a surreal atmosphere, with soft tremulo strings broken by "robust bursts of chant from the tenors, like voices of earth calling out to heaven." Women's voices calm the mood at the Benedictus, the whole reaching a white C-major moment at the word 'Hosanna'. The final Agnus Dei is a peaceful prayer that returns us to the quiet of the opening to the Requiem, but shorn of its Western sophistication - very much keeping to the spirit of Armenian expression, with all its profound directness.
This Requiem is a work to be experienced, not read about, and I would urge anyone to seek it out and introduce it into their lives as a kind of musical lodestone - something to have to hand whenever one feels the need to be moved and to somehow hold hands and seek solace with the rest of humanity. Both performance and recording are superb, the rich ecclesiastical acoustic perfect for the devotional atmosphere of this piece.