In the closing years of the Ottoman Empire, Gomidas Vartabed, a priest and composer, set out across his native Armenia – then a Turkish territory – to notate the music of his land. His interest alighted on all musics – sacred songs and liturgies, lullabies and folk songs. Gomidas’ work was timely. Within decades, millions of Armenians would be murdered in a Turkish-led genocide. Gomidas himself only survived through the intervention of the US ambassador and some Turkish friends; in 1919 he left Turkey for Paris, where he eventually died in an asylum.
It was during the recording of the soundtrack to Atom Egoyan’s film Ararat that the Armenian-Canadian operatic soprano, Isabel Bayrakdarian, first came to record some of Gomidas’ music. With pianist (and husband) Serouj Kradjian, Bayrakdarian travelled to Armenia to record the 20 songs that would make up the selection on Gomidas Songs. Accompanied by the Chamber Players of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, Bayrakdarian conjures up a luminous setting for her music. Kradjian’s arrangements avoid clutter, and a smattering of local instruments allay any anxieties about Bayrakdarian’s classically inspired interpretations. Certainly some of these songs may have once been heard over fields and cradles rather than concert halls, but their translation from private to public music is a beautiful one.