GOMIDAS Songs – Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano/ Serouj Kradjian, piano/ Chamber Players of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra/ Eudard Topchjan, conductor – Nonesuch 511487-2, 55:10 *****:
How is it that a man who never wrote an opera, oratorio, symphony, or string quartet came to be recognized as the “Father of Armenian Classical Music”? Yet this is precisely what Gomidas Vartobed (1869-1935) achieved. Gomidas had a tremendous singing prowess from an early age, and consequently became heavily involved in the music of the Armenian Apostolic Church, of which he became a priest at a young age. He then went to study in Berlin where he met Joseph Joachim, and became the master of music at the seminary and cathedral choir upon his return to Etchmiadzinin 1899.
Over the years he developed new settings of the Divine Liturgy and became increasingly interested in the folk music of Armenia and the surrounding lands. His greatest contribution is in the purification of these many melodies for future generations of Armenians, creating in essence a national Armenian music. He moved to Constantinople in 1910 and founded a 300 member choir which also put his music into contact with some of the great composers of the age. In 1915 he was deported, along with 300 other Armenian intellectuals, as part of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide by the Turks (which they deny to this day) which ended up killing over 1.5 million people. Gomitas amazingly survived this, but when he eventually returned he found that he had lost everything, friends, students, and his life’s work. He died in Paris in a mental institution – a broken man devoid of hope, and never composing again.
These songs, rendered to perfection by the wonderful Isabel Bayrakdarian, have been arranged by Serouj Kradjian, who used some cylinder recordings of Gomidas to garner some ideas. The songs are fabulous, tuneful, bittersweet, and hopeful—you name the emotion. Orchestral accompaniments are excellently done, and this album soars to one of the top song albums of the year, heartily and urgently recommended to all.
Lullaby, Song of the Partridge, Children’s Prayer, The Cloudy Sky/ It’s Raining, Apricot Tree, Spring, Mount Alakyaz/ Incense Tree, Dance of unabi, Dance of Shooshig, Striding Beaming, Oh Nazan/ Jingle-Jangle, Ah Dear Maral, Strolling, Tall as the Poplar Tree, I Cannot Dance, I’m Burning with Love/ Dear Shogher, Oh, What a Delight!, The Crane, Without a Home, Call to the Sea
— Steven Ritter