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“The excellent Akhtamar quartet reveals a young female composer.”
l’Echo, Stephane Renard, April 12, 2023.
Debussy’s string quartet op.10 was considered perturbing at the time on the Parisian music scene and has since become an absolute staple of quartet repertoire. It sweeps us along the most unexpected harmonic pathways and takes inspiration from sound-worlds as diverse as jazz, gamelan ensembles and Spanish folk music.
Rich in colour and exotic tonalities, this poetic masterpiece frees itself from traditional Western customs and stands as a unique bridge between different cultures. It was the famous Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaye’s string quartet who commissioned the work. They later defended it from the many accusations of “too modern”.
With Opus 10’s ties to Belgium, France and Armenia, The Akhtamar quartet immediately related to it and placed the piece at the heart of their repertoire. The Akhtamar quartet chose its name in reference to both the ancient Armenian myth and the Komitas Miniatures arranged by Aslamazyan, which they have played with passion since their formation.
In all areas of art, ancient works are visited by contemporary artists and adapted or transformed to speak to today’s world. Judith Adler de Oliviera has taken secular, Armenian themes and expressed them through music in a variety of ways. At times, she “narrates” these themes in a direct manner and at others, we have a faint sense of the original material as her innovative approach draws us away from tradition. As some of the same themes figure in the Miniatures by Komitas/Aslmazyan, a pathway is created between Oliviera’s work and the music which lies at the heart of Akhtamar’s repertoire.
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The Komitas Miniatures manage to condense all aspects of Armenian musical culture into a few short minutes. Serguey Aslamazyan’s arrangements of the work for string quartet enhance their inherent emotional intensity. We sense a nobility in the quartet arrangements, which is not present in the original. However, Aslamazyan’s subtle additions do not distort the Miniatures’ real message of peace and hope.
Similarly, these themes lie at the heart of Eugenie Alécian’s “Un Quatuor arménien’. This powerful work expresses the energy of a country that never stops singing and dancing, no matter how much it suffers.