Troubadour & the Nightingale = RAVEL: Kaddisch; Five Greek Songs; Tripatos; SAYAT-NOVA: Four Songs; SEROUJ KRADJIAN: Trobairitz Ysabella – Isabel Bayrakdarian, sop./ Manitoba Ch. Orch./ Anne Manson – MCO Records MCO013001, 61:34 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
What can I say? Any album by the magnificent Isabel Bayrakdarian almost automatically gets five stars from me. The voice is so amazingly beautiful, and she sings with more passion and feeling than ninety-five percent of all singers currently performing that one is simply overwhelmed by everything she does. Not that critical faculty is thrown out the door—far from it. But her artistry is such that she consistently exceeds expectations, and those expectations continue to grow with each new performance or recording.
She is also quite adept at her programming, seducing us with things we know, or slight variations on them (as in the Ravel arrangements here) and then coupling it with things we don’t know and might not ever approach without said coupling. In this case it works brilliantly, with some interesting and very beautiful music by the two additional composers on this album. Canadian Serouj Kardjian (who also arranged the Ravel works) presents us with a piece inspired by the Trobairitz, Occitan female troubadours of the 12th and 13th centuries, generally thought to have been active from around 1170 to 1260. There is only one piece extent with music from the 20-30 women that we know of, and their entire output only amounted to about one percent of the entire Troubadour compositional corpus. Unlike many of their male counterparts, the Trobairitz were socially advantaged and usually of the nobility, and while there is truth to the idea that the Crusades, with the absence of men, allowed them and other women to achieve higher stations in life, the idea in the notes that they were considered heretics and sought out by the Inquisition is questionable. While many, like Marie of France, certainly were questioning of much of the medieval church’s teachings regarding love and sex, they were not the only ones to do so, and since the Trobairitz were the first women to write secular, not sacred, music in western Europe (other women had been writing the latter for some time), they were following an established tradition already set by men, though it was quite bold for women to be saying essentially the same things, and complaining about their treatment as well.
One composer, Ysabella, is the subject of the work at hand, though it cannot be factually stated that she existed, or even was a woman, though most scholars presume both of these currently. This five movement work is Kradjian’s interpretation of her journeys, including the texts of her only extent poem, Duel with Elias Cayrel, reflecting the courtship between her and Elias, a famous Troubadour of the time, The music is affecting and very fluid, with Bayrakdarian bringing requisite flair and beauty to the whole.
Kradjian also arranged Sayat-Nova’s work, known as the “King of Song” in his native Armenia, this modern Troubadour being born in 1712. After being made a priest in 1759 he died as a martyr for refusing to renounce Christianity and embrace Islam. Most of his 200 songs are secular despite his religious profession, and the arrangements here are really exquisite.
The Ravel selections are gorgeous, showing Bayrakdarian to be a French music interpreter of first rank, and definitely leaving you hankering for more.
The sound, while not state-of-the-art, is warm and vibrant with a modern analog feel to it, luscious when need be and fully presenting the soprano, the music, and the terrific performances by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and wonderful director, Anne Manson, in splendid light. This is a great album!