The Voice of Komitas Vardapet

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Traditional Crossroads' disc The Voice of Komitas Vardapet brings to compact disc what many might think would be an impossible historical artifact: the singing of Komitas, Armenian composer, folk song collector, monk, and Renaissance man. One would think Komitas so far removed from the various centers of early recording that the very idea of being able to listen to this great man's legendary voice could be construed as being both absurd and somewhat impertinent, akin to someone saying they'd found records of Adolph Wölfli interpreting his compositions. However, Komitas did record his voice for the Gramophone Company, either in Alexandropol (i.e., Gymuri) or in Etchmiadzin -- the sources aren't clear -- in 1908. In 1912, Komitas made another 20 sides as pianist for Orfeón, accompanying Armenian singer Armenak Shah Muradian, a vocalist who was a member of the Opèra de Paris and a student of Komitas. Muradian also made Armenian records for Columbia in New York in 1917, but Komitas was certainly not involved with this session, as by that time he was already ensconced in the lunatic asylum outside Paris that would prove home for the rest of his life.

The Traditional Crossroads disc contains all six of the sides Komitas recorded in 1908 -- one of which is a duet -- and a selection of three drawn from the ultra-rare Orfeóns; the remainder is taken from the New York Columbias made by Muradian in which Komitas did not take part. These recordings were distributed on LPs in the former Soviet Union, and though the disc is emblazoned with the device "Digitally Remastered by ANIMA-VOX," it appears most likely that the Soviet LPs served as the sources, identified as cylinders. This is a common mistake in transliterating notes from Russian sources, as in Russia all old recordings are referred to as cylinders whether or not they happen to be round and flat. Heavily filtered, surface noise is not an issue on The Voice of Komitas Vardapet. However, one very unfortunate by-product of the digital processing is the increased volume of the blasting -- overmodulated grooves resulting from sympathetic vibrations in the recording horn -- that occurs throughout the whole CD. The blasting on this disc is very bad; it jumps right out of one's speakers with the force of a two-ton truck of bowling balls, and mere blasting is hardly an incurable artifact when it comes to the digital restoration of old recordings. This is just a poor and careless job made of it. That, in combination with the misleading information about the sources of the recordings (all of which are identified as having been "Recorded in Paris, 1912,"), makes The Voice of Komitas Vardapet a dubious and somewhat irresponsible reissue. It is only recommendable to those who must hear Komitas sing. And while it confirms he was worthy of his legendary reputation as a vocalist, one really should wait until a responsible package of Komitas' recordings is made available.

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