CD REVIEW: Tigran Hamasyan and the Yerevan State Chamber Choir Luys i Luso

Tigran Hamasyan and the Yerevan State Chamber Choir Luys i Luso
(ECM 473 2383. Review by Jon Carvell)

For his first album on ECM, pianist Tigran Hamasyan is joined by the Yerevan State Chamber Choir in an exploration of Armenian sacred music spanning from the 5th century to the 19th.

Such a project on this label immediately evokes thoughts of Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble’s landmark recording Officium and its sequels; however, although similar in principle, Hamasyan's album takes us on a completely different journey.

From its beginning Luys i Luso (Light from the Light) is imbued with an ethereal quality, an otherness born of twisting and turning modes and the melodic decorations of Cilician holy music. Such ornamented lines can be heard in the opening solo piano track, Ov Zarmanali, which lasts only ninety seconds and is brought off so delicately that it feels like it was never really there at all. Like many melodies on the album, this one returns later - as a thirteen minute odyssey complete with choir - captured in a different form and heard from another perspective.

In many ways Hamasyan’s disc echoes the work of the great Komitas Vardapet, one of the first to collect and catalogue traditional Armenian folk songs. Komitas’s story is particularly tragic: a composer, priest, brilliant scholar and ethnomusicologist, he was arrested and imprisoned during the 1915 Armenian genocide and suffered a mental breakdown, living out the rest of his life in psychiatric hospitals.

A number of sections from Komitas’s Armenian Holy Mass feature on this album. Orhnyal e Astvats, the closing track, begins with an old recording of the melody, which is then subsumed into the modern day by the Yerevan choir, whilst Hamasyan adds elegant phrases on top. Shot-through with otherworldly beauty, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect ending.

The unique spirituality of Luys i Luso will be brought to different sacred spaces across Europe over the coming weeks, as Hamasyan takes the project on tour. Let's hope the live experience is just as magical as the recordings on this disc. 

Tigran Hamasyan and the Yerevan State Chamber Choir perform at the Union Chapel on 15 October. BOOKINGS.

LINK: Feature/ Interview on on Tigran Hamasyan's Luys i Luso

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