Tigran MANSURIAN: Requiem – RIAS Kammerchor/Münchener Kammerorchester/Alexander Liebreich – ECM 

Tigran MANSURIAN: Requiem – RIAS Kammerchor/Münchener Kammerorchester/Alexander Liebreich – ECM New Series 2508 (4/14/17) 45:25 ***1/2:

Heartfelt music which reminds us of a cultural tragedy.

The darkest side of human behavior has given history plenty of truly shocking incidents and stories for generations to ruminate upon and – one would hope – learn from. In April 1915 the Ottoman government within Turkey embarked upon the systematic decimation through both execution as well as neglect of its civilian Armenian population. The persecutions continued until 1923 when the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist and was replaced by the Republic of Turkey. The Armenian population of the Ottoman state was reported at about two million in 1915. An estimated one million had perished by 1918, while hundreds of thousands had become homeless and stateless refugees. By 1923 virtually the entire Armenian population of Anatolian Turkey had disappeared. The Armenians were largely Christian in a country run by the Islamic Turks. This dark period of time provides the inspiration for Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian with his Requiem.

I am not very familiar with the work of Tigran Mansurian but his own website tells us he is Armenian educated and has spent a number of years writing mostly film scores in his country and some works, such as this, that are concert hall specific. Both that aspect of his career as well as some of the melismatic cultural inflections within his vocal writing reminded me a bit of the sound of Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou, also an ECM artist.

This is a very heartfelt score and one that barely rises above a plaintive and restful dynamic and tone and yet sounds very reflective throughout with just the slightest bursts of anger or sadness. The Requiem does sound as one would expect channeling other works of this type and with stylistic tinges of Gorecki, Weinberg and others. I think most listeners would hear and feel the passion involved as well as be able to relate the work to any number of other requiem settings that do use the Latin mass.

Mansurian is largely unknown to western audiences although he is viewed by many as Armenia’s greatest living composer. It would be interesting to hear other works by Mansurian, especially the film scores, to get a true gauge of his “usual” style. There is much to admire in this score and I do not think many listeners at all would feel or fight any ‘modernity’ in the writing; which really does not exist. The forces of the RIAS chamber choir and the Munich chamber orchestra perform well and with sensitivity and kudos again to ECM for making unusual and relatively unknown music available.

Clearly the history of the Armenian people is a rich but troubled one and Mansurian’s work does a good job reflecting on these events as well as provides a solid addition to the Requiem genre.

—Daniel Coombs

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