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Music Review

Memorable Armenian folk songs carry the day

Isabel Bayrakdarian performed songs by Gomidas Vartabed. Isabel Bayrakdarian performed songs by Gomidas Vartabed. (Dario acosta)
By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / October 21, 2008
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Maybe Armenian folk music idioms aren't your cup of tea. But make sure you get a ticket to hear soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian the next time she comes to town, no matter what's on the program.

The Canadian Armenian singer is spreading the name of Armenian priest, composer, and ethnomusicologist Gomidas Vartabed, whose work has preserved and uplifted the music of his native land. Gomidas, as he is known, was arrested and deported by the Turkish government during the genocide in 1915, when he was in his 40s, and though he survived, he was left a broken man and did no further composing.

Bayrakdarian has a new album, "Gomidas Songs," with the composer's works orchestrated by her husband, pianist Serouj Kradjian, and performed with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra conducted by Anne Manson. They all came to Jordan Hall on Sunday afternoon for a Celebrity Series of Boston performance that featured groups of Gomidas's songs alongside similarly rooted pieces by Bartok, Ravel, Nikos Skalkottas and Gideon Klein.

Many in the audience were noticeably moved to hear familiar melodies. But even those unfamiliar with Gomidas's work found plenty to savor in Bayrakdarian's ravishing performance. The program of many short songs allowed - or required - her to reach heights of pathos one moment and sing almost playfully the next.

After one jaunty, upbeat number, Bayrakdarian gave a little combination shrug and hop, as if to say, "How 'bout that!" Charming. But her most emotional moments - on "Without a Home," "The Crane," and a heartbreaking lullaby that was one of four encores - achieved a riveting purity.

Given the format, it was a surprisingly coherent program, with ethnic roots clearly showing through the orchestral arrangements, and an underlying solemnity appropriate for a tour sponsored by the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. The orchestra gave an enthusiastic performance of Bartok's Romanian Folkdances and Skalkottas's Greek Dances, and was joined occasionally on the Gomidas songs by Hampic Djabourian on the traditional instrument called a duduk. Kradjian also delivered a short solo set of Gomidas pieces on piano.

Manitoba Chamber Orchestra

Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano; Serouj Kradjian, piano; Hampic Djabourian, duduk; with Anne Manson conducting.

Part of the Celebrity Series of Boston.

At: Jordan Hall, Sunday

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