ECM 2788 / 551 5436

The Gurdjieff Ensemble:

Vladimir Papikyan (Voice, Santur, Burvar, Tmbuk, Singing Bowls); Emmanuel Hovhannisyan (Duduk, Pku); Meri Vardanyan (Kanon); Armen Ayvazyan (Kamancha, Cymbal); Gagik Hakobyan (Duduk); Norayr Gapoyan (Duduk, Bass Duduk, Pku); Avag Margaryan (Blul); Aram Nikoghosyan (Oud); Astghik Snetsunts (Kanon); Davit Avagyan (Tar); Mesrop Khalatyan (Dap, Tmbuk, Bells, Triangle); Orestis Moustidis (Tombak);

Levon Eskenian – Artistic Director; National Chamber Choir of Armenia; Robert Mlkeyan – Director

Recorded December 2021, Radio Recording Studio Yerevan

This is the third recording for ECM of Levon Eskenian’s Gurdjieff Ensemble, and with its rearrangements of Georges I. Gurdjieff’s compositions and transcriptions for traditional folk instruments  Eskenian takes the music back to its roots.

More than that, the works are not merely there to preserve the music of the past, or bring the ancient into the current century but are strong musical statements in their own right. With the recordings of music by Gurdjieff, Komitas and composers including Sayat-Nova (1712–1795) and Baghdasar Tbir (1683-1768) The Gurdjieff Ensemble are now one of the most highly regarded ensembles in Armenia and beyond.

Listening to the recording of the Ensemble, and Zartir in particular it is remarkable how one quickly gets used to the sound of the traditional folk instruments and the collective sound of what must be regarded as a small orchestra. On the first few listening’s I was trying to pick out sounds and instruments that I recognised, and piece together what I was hearing. The ear and the brain quickly adapt and all that was important was the combined effect of the Ensemble and the music itself.

The arrangements are inspiring and uplifting as the Ensemble seem to breathe as one. The music, as with many ancient and traditional folk forms, seems to inhabit a space outside of the mainstream and is there for those who seek it. When listening closely there is a sense of not just visiting the past but also being in the present and gazing into the future as these sounds and melodies have not only had a life that is long but one that continues to bring comfort with a familiarity that is comforting.

Much of the music is divided into splinter groups featuring a selective instrumentation for each particular piece. When the ensemble expands its numbers, and the sound swells the music becomes increasingly emotional and emotive.

Two pieces that highlight this is the sparse and introspective ‘Prayer and Despair’ that for all its melancholy has a beautiful melody and inherent lyricism and the music that Levon Eskenian describes as “… one of the most profound and transformative pieces I have encountered in Gurdjieff’s work” in ‘The Great Prayer’.

Concluding with the majestic ‘The Great Prayer’ it is if the album had been leading to this magnificent climax. Featuring the National Chamber Choir of Armenia alongside The Gurdjieff Ensemble is a melding of the traditional instruments and voices that appear timeless. The music ebbs and flows in a similar vein to ‘Prayer and Despair’ and with its gentle meditative aura and religious connotations is a most calming and satisfying close to this excellent album.