This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Mother of Light contains a series of works in praise of the Virgin Mary from Isabel Bayrakdarian’s Armenian Church tradition. Origins range from the 5th century to the early 20th. They are performed here in arrangements by Bayrakdarian’s husband Serouj Kradjian for soprano (Isabel Bayrakdarian), cello (Ani Aznavoorian) and female choir (Coro Vox Aeterna conducted by Anna Hamre).
The contrast with Bayrakdarian’s earlier album of Armenian sacred music (Joyous Light, 2002) is very interesting. The voice is no longer that of a young Handel and Mozart specialist. It is much more mature and darker and the upper register no longer has its former pristine clarity. In some ways though it is more characterful and interesting. This is emphasised by the singing style. It’s much more overtly emotional and there’s much more middle eastern influence with more melisma and a tendency to fractionally drop off the pitch at the end of a phrase. There’s also significantly more vibrato though, in the range of these pieces; lying largely fairly low for a soprano, it’s not unpleasant. The blend with the cello accompaniment is quite felicitous. Curiously the choir, a pick up group of local (Californian) singers, sings much more in the clean, pure tone style of Western church music. It might even be considered rather bland. It’s certainly a marked contrast with the solo singing.
This was clearly a devotional project rooted deeply in Bayrakdarian’s faith. Whether seventeen hymns to the Virgin Mary are something a typical record buyer will want to listen to consecutively is questionable but the sincerity of the performances is palpable. A detailed and informative booklet that, besides background information on music and performers, contains all the texts in Armenian script, transliteration and English translation accompanies the disk.