Arsen Petrosyan’s Charentsavan, Music For Armenian Duduk

cover artArsen Petrosyan is an Armenian player of the wind instrument known as duduk, a double-reed horn that makes a sound similar to that of the clarinet, flute, bassoon and shawm. A musical prodigy on this difficult instrument, he has titled his debut recording after his hometown of Charentsavan, Armenia.

Although young, Petrosyan is a conservatory-trained and road-tested performer who has toured the United States, Russia, Canada, India, Germany, Spain (Canary Islands), France, and the Republic of Georgia as well as his native Armenia. He is currently a soloist with the Armenian Traditional Music Ensemble (Yerevan) and recently started his own group, the Arsen Petrosyan Trio.

Charentsavan is a short album with nine tracks clocking in at just under a half-hour. It’s wise choice for a debut release featuring an instrument little known in the West. On this record he attempts to give an overview of the music of the duduk throughout its history, playing songs ancient, contemporary and in-between.

Except for brief introductory sections, Petrosyan doesn’t play entirely solo, but is always accompanied by other instruments. The most constant presence is the drone of a second duduk. On those tunes like the opener “Eshkhmet” this music nearly resembles South Asian music from, say, Afghanistan or Pakistan. If this were Western music I’d call it a tone poem; it’s an old piece from the 18th century.

The most engaging, I find, are those with larger ensembles that include percussion and stringed instruments. “Tapna Kervan Prtav,” from an Armenian folk song, has a lovely lilting melody for the duduk, accompanied by harp – as near as I can tell it’s a Western-style harp. “Javakhki Shoror” is a traditional Armenian folk dance arranged here fora big ensemble that includes percussion from a skin drum called a dhol, the zither-like kanon and tar, and the bowed Persian or Azerbaijani zither called kamancha. I’d love to see the dance that’s done to this one! The following piece, too, “Kessabi Oror,” though it’s a traditional lullaby features lots of zithers as well, but no percussion, which I suppose tends to keep babies awake.

The oldest piece is called “Havik,” dating from around 1000 C.E. It features just Petrosyan and the accompanying drone by Narek Mnatsakanyan. Petrosyan demonstrates superb breath, phrasing and tonal control on this haunting tune. The newest is an emotive modern folk tune called “Lullaby For The Sun” by modern Armenian oud player Ara Dinkjian. Petrosyan is accompanied by an acoustic guitar and the subtle African Igbo drum called the udu.

This recording is my first exposure to the duduk. Petrosyan seems to be an impressive young performer on this instrument that remains obscure in the west. I look forward to seeing him perform in other configurations and ensembles. Fans of Turkish and South Asian music might very well enjoy his music as well.

The CD comes in an attractive package with an informative booklet. Petrosyan doesn’t as yet have a very large online presence, but here is a performance video of him that gives a good view of the instrument and how it’s played, both in the lead position and the supporting drone.

Pomegranate, 2015

You can find Arsen Petrosyan on Facebook.  Pomegranate Music is here.

About Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.