Djivan Gasparyan won the Radio 3 Awards for World Music audience award in 2003 for his exquisite, soulful playing on the duduk (double-reeded oboe). Portrait is as fine a showcase for the Armenian’s versatile musicianship as you could wish for, as he approaches his 80th birthday. Network Medien’s lavish double-CD package runs to a daunting 140 minutes in length, but is sequenced such that you can either relax and let the haunting, subtly melodic instrument take centre stage as its spacious, flowing notes transport you to Gasparayan’s mountainous native country; or you can marvel at the sheer breadth of music — both traditional and modern — within which he deploys its rich, airy sound. The traditional manner of playing the instrument is as a duo, one instrumentalist providing a deep-seated drone over which the lead player blows soft, emotional notes. The improvised piece Improvisation and Antsa Gnatsi, which Gasparyan recorded with his son especially for this collection (one of a number of new interpretations recorded in 2007), is a tenderly delivered, mournful example of that approach. But the instrument is also framed in a number of different, and variously-sized, ensembles right up to the majestic, free-flowing 23-minute Armenian all-star suite that closes the collection - a folksy, life-affirming clash of wind instruments, ouds, traditional percussion and a host of bewilderingly talented Gasparyan family members. The experimental side of Djivan’s work is well represented here too, notably with Real World records’ master of the modern soundscape Michael Brook, and in an interesting marriage with the Avedis String Orchestra that accentuates the classical dimension of the instrument. The occasional vocal track, and some weaving, small-ensemble tracks that possess a sense of rhythm right out of the Orient (Gasparyan has worked with many noted Turkish, Iranian and Tuvan artists) make for a rich array of music that can be enjoyed in bite-sized chunks or one sumptuous feast.
This review first appeared on www.flyglobalmusic.com