A peculiar project (that's why we love ECM though) exploring both modern and folk music of Armenia.
The disc opens with "Havik" a piece for viola and percussion by Mansurian. It has some of the sparse, echoey percussion one might expect from Takemitsu. It doesn't sound like Takemitsu, that's just what it reminded me of effect wise until the viola enters and then it is clear this music is from the Armenian tradition with its sorrowful longing that never quite reaches despair, and actually inspires hope.
Next comes 11 songs by Komitas and adapted by Mansurian for varying combinations of viola, piano, voice and percussion. Despite a distinct lack of quality and vocal talent, Mansurian's voice (he also handles piano duties) there is an appealing quality to it as he howls with unreserved fragility. Only ECM could conceive something like this and actually make it work.
Komitas' music is laced with tender fragility and a soulful honesty that produces a pensive serenity. No translations are provided (or orignal texts for that matter), but in all honesty, knowing the words would probably just get in the way of the enjoyment of the music. These performances are fragile and gorgeous. Mansurian is almost like a child singing, and the pure passion of his performance makes it enjoyable to listeners as well.
I didn't hold this opinion of the disc the first time I listened, but the tunes are so infectious and powerful that the voice quickly grows on you. You will find yourself humming "Garan A" and the playful "Hoy, Nazan" after a few listens.
Kashkashian makes her viola soar, capturing the nuances of the kemancheh (a bowed instrument played in Armenia and Iran) on pieces like "Krunk." The disc closes with an 18 minute "Duet for Viola and Percussion". Percussion-wise, it employs marimba, xylophone, gongs, congas, etc and they are used to brilliant effect in its slow passages...showing that percussion need not be bombastic to be effective. Much of the piece is performed at a whisper, but it starts to growl about 12 minutes in, but even that is brief and the piece finally fades into silence.