Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

The Music for String Quartet
String Quartet No. 1 Jupiter
String Quartet No. 3 Reflections on my Childhood
String Quartet No. 4 The Ancient Tree

Song of the Ch'In
Shanghai Quartet
DELOS DE3162 [69.28]
Amazon UK

The Delos US Classics series promised great things. In fairness, before it went into freefall, it transformed and continues to transform the catalogue. Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony reigned buoyant striking outwards ambitiously and starting so many integral editions. The Hanson series achieved a full cycle. The Piston, Diamond, Schuman and Mennin never made it but what was issued was at least good and often much better than that. There were quite a few Hovhaness discs of which this one, fulsome in playing time, is an excellent example.

The Bagatelles are discreet unambitious, rhapsodic and self-confident. The vulnerability of the music prompts thoughts of Vaughan Williams' Lark Ascending and Flos Campi.

The quartets were all written to be played at Hovhaness's home with friends.

The Jupiter weaves a stern vein into a regretful pavane related more to the Faure than the Ravel. Reminiscences of Haydn and Beethoven and a 'buzzsaw' flightiness. The Spirit Murmur from the second quartet abandons the classical for the accustomed exoticism of the gamelan, the swaying rhapsody (in which the cello raptly serves as orator) and the almost inaudible pizzicato. The hymn 'All glory laud and honour' is all but quoted. A pity we could not have been given the complete quartet.

The final two quartets (of four) are here in their entirety. Reflections on my childhood is, in nostalgic intent, similar to Barber's Knoxville although not a work of such mastery as the Barber. Its vagrant tonality and sirening violins (Fra Angelico again although there is also a Romanian and even a Moroccan accent) is familiar. The work has a Wordsworthian reverence for childhood and an awed spirituality.

The Fourth Quartet again returns to the world of childhood from an adult perspective. Under The Ancient Maple Tree recalls distant summers in slow unemphatic rhapsodies, fugal round dances fit for 'The Graces' and in the same angelic celebration we find in Mozart's K364 Sinfonia Concertante.

The piece by Zhou Long is pleasant and ventures, amid much pizzicato work, further out on the branchline towards atonality than Hovhaness would have countenanced. I was not overly struck with it and remain regretful that the whole of the second quartet was not included.

There are useful liner notes and the Delos sound good, tight and clear - not too distant.

Recommendable especially for those put off by the complexity of Hovhaness's orchestral scores. Here the melodic material is presented unadorned and with crystalline clarity.

Rob Barnett

See other Hovhaness reviews

Catalogue of works

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers : - The UK's Biggest Video Store

Concert and Show tickets


Musicians accessories

Click here to visit

Return to Index