Armenian Chamber Choir: 'Ars Poetica'

A new classical CD called Ars Poetica features the Armenian Chamber Choir singing compositions by composer Tigran Mansurian. Musician and Day to Day contributor David Was offers a review.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

Our contributor, David Was, half of the band Was, Not Was, usually writes about jazz and pop music. But he was intrigued by a new CD featuring music sung by a chamber choir. Here is David.

DAVID WAS reporting:

Munich-based ECM Records has been known for 37 years now as a repository of taste-making jazz, from Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny to a host of European musicians with half their hearts lodged in so-called serious music.

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WAS: Some 20 years ago, label founder and producer Manfred Eicher started his new series, Imprint, which is devoted to contemporary classical composition.

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WAS: His latest offering is an a cappella choral work by Armenia composer Tigran Mansurian, whose love of his native language led him to set the poems of Yeghishe Charents, arguably the most beloved of 20th-century Armenian poets, to music.

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WAS: The result is a fluid, intimate and sensuous-sounding blend of the ancient and the modern, as if medieval monks got in a time machine and launched themselves into the 21st century. That feeling is at once a function of Charents' poetic sensibility and the facility of the Armenia Chamber Chorus to express the ineffable emotions therein.

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WAS: Charents was an early supporter of the Bolsheviks, but he was persecuted during the Stalin purges for the nationalist sentiments reflected in his poems, especially the one titled The Message, whose famous acrostic written in the second letter of each line reads, Oh Armenian people, your only salvation is in your collective power. As a result of this message, he was jailed in 1936, and witnesses say that he died in his cell the following year.

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WAS: The legacy of Charents and his works now stand proudly and firmly within the canon of Armenian literature. Many of his words and thoughts have become national slogans and emblems of Armenian unity, even to the extent that they've been printed on official government documents, in nationalistic support of that cause.

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WAS: Broad to vivid life by Mansurian's haunting music, perhaps the world will come to discover one of the great voices in 20th-century poetry. The consonant-rich sounds of the Armenian language may have been challenging to set to music, but Mansurian considered that the virtue, rather than a limitation. As Charents wrote in one of his poems, our language is subtle and rough, courageous and harsh, but at the same time our language is as radiant as a lighthouse glowing with the fire of ancient centuries.

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CHADWICK: The music is from the album Ars Poetica by the composer Tigran Mansurian. Our reviewer, David Was.

(Soundbite of Armenian choral music)

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