SHOGHAKEN ENSEMBLE "Music From Armenia" Traditional Crossroads GEVORG DABAGHYAN "Lost Songs From Eden" Traditional Crossroads KARINE HOVHANNISYAN "Classical Music for the Armenian Kanun" Traditional Crossroads

Friday, February 8, 2008

SHOGHAKEN ENSEMBLE"Music From Armenia"Traditional CrossroadsGEVORG DABAGHYAN"Lost Songs From Eden"Traditional CrossroadsKARINE HOVHANNISYAN"Classical Music for the Armenian Kanun"Traditional Crossroads

ARMENIAN MUSIC IS neither precisely Eastern nor Western, but in the Soviet era it was tugged toward Moscow's symphonic tastes. Since 1991, the Shoghaken Ensemble has been pulling the other way, exploring traditional forms and instruments.

"Music From Armenia," the group's latest album, includes dance tunes, a cappella ballads and instrumental solos by Gevorg Dabaghyan, Shoghaken's founder and a master of the duduk (a double-reed pipe). Generally more reminiscent of Turkish than Persian styles, the pieces can be kinetic yet courtly. With two singers and seven instrumentalists, the troupe is versatile but never overstated. Its sound is spare and airy, with each musical element featured in turn. A fine example is the captivating "Melodies of Karabagh," which opens with breathy duduk, segues into a jiglike passage and ultimately spotlights all the players.

According to some legends, Armenia was the site of the Garden of Eden, which explains the title of Dabaghyan's CD "Lost Songs From Eden." The album reclaims a few of the thousands of folk melodies collected a century ago by musicologist Komitas, as performed by Dabaghyan. Although Dabaghyan is joined by a string quartet, the music retains its pastoral charm. A student of Turkish and Kurdish music as well as Armenian, Komitas was no purist, and the range of the tunes he collected can be heard in these 14 examples. Much of the music is plaintive and has an Eastern modality, as illustrated by the lovely "Hov Areq, Sarer Jan." But there are also a few dance numbers, notably "Shakhkr-Shukhkr," that could slip right into a Celtic band's repertoire.

Composer Khachatur Avetisyan, who died in 1996, was also an advocate of Armenian folk music. He wrote often for the kanun, a form of zither played in the Shoghaken Ensemble by Karine Hovhannisyan. A showcase for both the composer and the musician, "Classical Music for the Armenian Kanun" includes an Avetisyan concerto for kanun and orchestra and several shorter pieces (including some collected by Komitas). If the concerto is a solid but predictable exercise in yoking together folk and symphonic music, some of the shorter pieces are outstanding. The album's most impressive introduction to the kanun's metallic sound is "Shalako," a spirited Georgian dance that demonstrates just how briskly Hovhannisyan's fingers can move.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Monday at St. Mark Presbyterian Church, Rockville (301-754-3611, Show starts at 7:30.

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