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Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
Songs for bass and piano - volume 2
The Flute Player of the Armenian Mountains (1946)
Gurge Dikran (1949)
Gantznin Orern (1946)
Dulhey Dulhey (1948)
Ararat (1944)
Distant Lake of Sighs (1971)
Under a Byzantine Dome (1971)
In Early Dawn Time (1971)
From High Armenian Mountain (1971)
Two Shakespeare Sonnets (1942)
Live in the Sun (1953)
Pagan Saint (1948)
Ara Berberian (bass)
Alan Hovhaness (piano)
rec c. 1970 ADD


Peter Christ has been one of the most steadfast of Hovhaness champions; at one time he seemed to be fighting alone. His struggle is comparable with that of Herschel F Gilbert of Laurel who has done so much for the cause of Bloch. And what a fight Mr Christ has fought! He produced in the 1970s a sheaf of weighty LPs on his Poseidon label - sombrely distinctive for their cover line-drawing of a ruined Armenian church amid a desolate steppe. Symphonies, oratorios, piano music and songs all appeared. The least spoken of among this complement were the song LPs (1008 and 1009) made by the noble Armenian bass, Ara Berberian.

Hovhaness met Berberian circa 1968 after a concert and the two were soon engaged in plans for recordings of the composer's songs. In addition Berberian had four songs specially written for him: From High Armenia Mountain (an epic seven minute span), In Early Dawn Time, Under a Byzantine Dome and Distant Lake of Sighs - all recorded here (trs. 10-13).

The sound for this CD has been transcribed from the best LP stock that could be found. Seth Winner has done an exemplary job and although there are low level blemishes they are few and the intrinsic sound quality is sturdy and clearly put across.

The song cycle The Flute Player of the Armenian Mountains is laid out in five songs many of which sound hieratic - no doubt accentuated by Berberian's rounded and richly burred bass voice. The composer makes tough demands on the singer as can be heard on the long held legato at the end of Lelezar (tr. 2) and in the temple-dancing final song: Akh, Hoor e, Hoor E, Sirdus. The piano part is always tonal and of an oriental caste, tinkling, pecking or repetitive providing a singing 'lawn' or tapestry of sound over which an invocational, dancing or joyous prayer curves and dives, smiles and blesses. Gantznin Orern is one of the most sombre and orientally melismatic. Ararat is similar but is warmed by the light of optimism and gives the feeling of looking down from, on high, on distant lands. Dulhey has a piano part which recalls Holst's odd-ball piano writing.

Distant Land of Sighs was surely written with knowledge of Holst's Betelgeuse from the Humbert Wolfe settings and with a touch of This Ae Night by Britten from the Serenade. Berberian's English tends to thicken when called on. The Byzantine Dome is a darkling song which charts gloomily minatory depths in which raindrops are characterised as blotches of blood. After such storm clouds the light hymn of In Early Dawn Time is a rapturously liberated song which one senses as a tenor song though Berberian manages it with style and lightness. From High Armenian Mountain has a piano part haunted by dissonance - the most dissonant track here. Dissonance is also present in Live in the Sun which is concerned with the inhuman beings of blazing light, burning and yet not burned in the endless conflagration of the sun. The vocal part of From High Armenian Mountain is a noble cry and exhortation and encouragement to the people of Armenia. Sonnets 29 and 30 (When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes and When to the sessions of sweet silent thought) are other sombre pieces - hymnal in character rather like Vaughan Williams' Old Hundredth crossed with the reflective George Herbert songs such as I got me flowers). The last song is a setting of words by Consuelos Cloos. The piano charts a thuddingly breathless horse ride which slows, rather artfully, just as the voice enters. Passionate Pagan fierce and free sing your song of ecstasy: a skilled song of merciless drive.

The words are printed in full in English translation. Sadly there is no sign of the original Armenian in which the first nine tracks of the seventeen are sung.

This is a much more varied and engaging collection than the first and if you must have only one then this is the one to get. If you already have the first then this is a must-have. I will continue to implore Crystal to set Mr Winner loose on a good quality Poseidon LP of the wind orchestra symphony Ani. This, filled out with some other Hovhaness (or even alone), would be the answer to the prayers of the composer's many admirers.

Rob Barnett


Love Songs of Hafiz
How I Adore Thee
Black Pool of a Cat
Lulaby of the Lake
Dawn at Laona
Three Odes of Solomon
Out of the Depths

Ara Berberian (bass)/Alan Hovhaness (piano)
rec c. 1969


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