Arsen Petrosyan Hokin Janapar
Review by Tom Orr
Let me begin with words of respect for Joe Biden as the first U.S. president with enough balls to officially use the word “genocide” in reference to the barbaric atrocities inflicted on Armenia by the Ottoman Empire during World War One. I take the liberty of mentioning this because Hokin Janapar strives to be a kind of Armenian musical history lesson and the pieces that comprise it are, to quote the liner notes, “a document of a nation and culture that refuses to die.”
The mass extermination of Armenians a century ago was one test of their seemingly indomitable spirit; another is the fact that contested areas of Armenia were under attack by Azerbaijan while these songs were being recorded and the work was completed in the face of that potential danger.
The musical instrument through which Arsen Petrosyan articulates his feelings is the duduk. The double reed woodwind (typically made of apricot wood), in addition to being Armenia’s signature wind instrument, has snaked its way into the mainstream through its use on various movie and television soundtracks. Djivan Gasparyan remains the name most closely associated with the duduk, but keep an ear out for comparative newcomers like Petrosyan.
Petrosyan expertly showcases the duduk’s haunting array of sounds as both a solo and ensemble instrument. “I Nnjmaned,” features dual duduks unaccompanied, sounding like they’re solemnly announcing the arrival of some time-traveling spirit from ancient days. That melancholy tone recurs throughout, with the duduk always at the top of the mix and leading the way melodically.
Its versatility in combination with other sounds is clarified as the selections, including a trio of medleys, open up to make room for neighboring instruments like the Armenian dhol drum, Arabic qanun, Persian santur, a harp and a second duduk adding a droning ambiance to Petrosyan’s main one. Moodier stretches give way to livelier folk dances and brighter moods often enough, reflecting the course of Armenia’s rich and sometimes troubled history and the role music continues to play in it.