AMICI by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, May 25, 2007, Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto

Armenian folk music sings like a mockingbird perched on the junction of Europe and Asia. The songs bring intimations: of caravans rolling through barren stretches, of vines and calligraphy curling in silk and warm porcelain, of wild-haired children, dogs, and the balanced walk of dark-eyed women among men with rifles and priests in black gowns.

Isabel Bayrakdarian’s rich soprano, bright as birdsong, is perfectly matched to the music as she pours out the melodies of “Seven Armenian folk songs by Reverend Gomidas”, arranged by Serouj Kradjian. The songs reflect love: of mother and child, of homeland threatened by genocide, of a shy, flirtatious girl, of spiritual contemplation, and of village revelry.

Bayrakdarian is accompanied by the composer on piano and members of the Amici Trio, whose every instrument colours and shapes the shifting moods of these songs. David Hetherington’s cello, like a riverbank, guides the nostalgic flow; Joaquin Valdepenas’ lugubrious clarinet gets the klezmatic dances airborne; Serouj Kradjian’s passionate, liquid piano joins with the violin of Ben Bowman in the trilling legatos that transport the music into the realm of prayer.

Of all these unsurpassable instrumental voices, Bayrakdarian’s is the most miraculous. Her voice, whether gleaming with love in “Keler Tsoler”, or humming away her sorrow in the lament “Karoun A”, penetrates its meaning into your heels.

There were two instrumental pieces in the concert: “Trio for clarinet, violin and piano” by Aram Katchaturian, and “Trio for violin, violoncello and piano (1952) by Arno Babadjanian. The Katchaturian begins languidly on a pastoral note, develops a sequence of monastic pacing familiar from the compositions of George Gurdjieff, and after many alterations of mood and tempo, delivers a finale of vibrant harmonies textured like a hand-knotted rug.

The Babadjanian “Trio” is beautifully romantic, alternating between the melancholy nostalgia reminiscent of Lloyd Webber’s “Memories” and the hectic frenzy of Katchaturian’s “Sabre Dance”, the latter mood focused by Serouj Kradjian’s passionate piano.

Hetherington, Bowman, and Kradjian received a huge and well-deserved standing ovation.

More ovations and encores for this concert crowned a great season for Amici with jewel of Ms. Bayrakdarian’s guest appearance.

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