Gevorg Dabaghyan,
Masterworks for Armenian Duduk

(Traditional Crossroads, 2002)

On Miniatures: Masterworks for Armenian Duduk, Ghevorg Dabaghyan, one of Armenia's most celebrated instrumentalists, conducts the listener through more than a millenium of musical heritage from this ancient country in the Caucasus. As one of those vague frontiers between Europe and Asia, this mountainous region, tucked in between the Black and Caspian seas, is home to an ethnic mosaic that is also reflected in its music.

Where neighboring Georgia's fame rests on its polyphonic singing, Armenia became renowned for the melancholic sound of the duduk, an ancient double-reed pipe. Although the instrument is also known to the Turks, Kurds, Georgians and Azerbaijanis, the duduk is considered a native Armenian instrument, supposedly dating back to the lustrous reign of their legendary King Tigran during the first century of the common era. From the informative folder we learn that the duduk's body must be carved from the root of the apricot tree, while the reed -- called "ramish" or "yegheg" -- is ideally cut from canes growing along the banks of the Arax river. Duduk music is traditionally performed by two players, whereby one provides a drone to support the melody played by the soloist. Rhythm is supplied by the dhol, a cylindrical double-sided drum.

The repertoire on Miniatures reflects the cultural richness of the Armenians, who -- in spite of exposure to Persian, Byzantine, Mongol and various Turkish influences -- have staunchly continued to adhere to their own unique brand of Christianity. It comes therefore as no surprise that Gevorg Dabaghyan has included three examples of liturgical music in the 15 compositions of this album. All three are based on the "tagh," a melody type that was developed somewhere between the 10th and the 13th century, based on a fusion of sacred chants and bardic music.

Later on, from the 17th to the 19th century, Islamic influences became stronger. These were transmitted through Persians and Ottoman Turks, but probably also adopted by the Armenian Diaspora in such cities as Istanbul, Baghdad, Damascus, Teheran and Isfahan. Consequently the duduk was used for representations of Middle Eastern love poems called "ashugh." Two of the CD's tracks are taken from the legacy of Sayat Nova (1717-1795), a prominent composer of ashugh from the Armenian community in Aleppo (Northern Syria). Another motif is the "Makam," a term derived from the Arabic "maqama." This form of narrative verse was developed by Arabic and Persian-writing poets as early as the 10th century and soon it became considered as the epitome of lyrical prose. In a track "Shustar," Dabaghyan presents a duduk variation on this celebrated genre as another example of the Armenians' cultural versatility, enabling them to absorb influences from multiple directions and create new expressions that are distinctly Armenian in character.

Folk and dance music is also not lacking from this wide-ranging collection. Some six of the titles can be traced back to the folklore of Armenia's varying regions. Three 20th-century compositions blend in surprisingly well with this rich historical tradition.

Dabaghyan, is presently Armenia's most accomplished duduk player. Trained at the most prestigious institutes he has acquired the unique skill to merge the classical and folksy strands into which Armenian duduk music diverged in the course of the 20th century. With this CD Dabaghyan and the Traditional Crossroads label present the listener not only with a comprehensive collection of compositions for the duduk, but also a broad sample of the musical heritage of Armenia.

[ by Carool Kersten ]
Rambles: 14 September 2002

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