MANOOKIAN:  Symphony of Tears.  Flute Concerto.
Laurel Ann Mauer, flute; Narine Ananikian, mezzo-soprano; Vahan Harutunian, boy soprano; Armenian National Opera Orchestra & Chorus; Karen Durgarian and Jeff Manookian, cond.
ALBANY TROY 507 (F) (DDD) TT:  77:43

Pretty much a waste of time. Manookian's problem is that his music is sweet without being interesting. A lot of it sounds like a score by an extremely minor Hollywood film composer, someone on the order of, say, Scott Bradley. I don't really expect much of a flute concerto, quite frankly, so few capable ones not by Bach or Vivaldi seem to be out there, and the music is genteel and pleasant enough without once rising to real wit or poetry.

The Symphony of Tears, far more ambitious, is another matter. Manookian has responded to the central Armenian event of modern times: the genocide against Armenia by the Ottoman Turks. It's the equivalent of a Jewish composer taking on the Nazi Holocaust. The Nazis, apparently, learned a thing or two from the Ottomans. It's a subject that demands the best, not only from a particular composer, but from any composer. Unfortunately, the subject arouses such emotion in us that we find it hard to forgive artistic failure here. Blandness and lack of focus become almost moral crimes: pretension, vanity, and self-ignorance. I admit it's unfair to blame a composer morally for what comes down to a failure of skill. Mostly, the symphony, despite its extra-musical subject, just bores me. I can, after several hearings, recall no passage or even theme. This isn't difficult music, merely dull music. At least to me. Your mileage may vary.

Laurel Ann Maurer, a fine flutist, should have gotten something more interesting to occupy her. I'm amazed she manages to stay awake. The Armenian National Opera Orchestra does well enough in the flute concerto. The performance of the symphony is pretty much of a mess. Recorded balances seem way off, with the orchestra far too forward and the chorus buried behind a curtain of instrumental sound. The soloists are okay, without distinction. The chorus has no diction to speak of. You can't follow the words even with the texts right in front of you. This isn't merely because English isn't the choir's first language, but because the singers have no idea how to project consonants. The sound becomes so much mush, I wonder whether they even make the correct pitches.  Over the years I've enjoyed just about every Albany CD that came my way.  I commend them for taking the chance to explore little-known repertoire and for so often striking gold.  For the reasons stated, I don't believe this CD lives up to their usual high standards.

S.G.S. (November 2002)