This recording of Alan
Hovhaness’s Cello Concerto is something
of a coup for Naxos. For this is the
world premiere of the work consigned,
in 1940, by its composer to the trash
can, an extraordinary act of self sacrifice,
considering its obvious merits, along
with close on 1,000 other of his compositions.
Although he later retrieved it, the
Concerto was not performed until 1975
when Hovhaness, curious as to its worth,
led a student performance at Western
Washington University at Bellingham.
This melodic work is
cast in three movements: a short 3½-minute
central Allegro framed by a 16-minute
opening Andante-Maestoso and a concluding
12-minute Andante, but, unconventionally,
in a slow-fast-slow three-movement pattern
Unlike much of Hovhaness’s work there
is a lack of contrapuntal construction
but an evocative use of old modes. The
music employs much of the oriental forms
that Hovhaness favours often used sensually
and languorously. Other material is
loudly proud and eruptive. In contrast
much of the music is serenely liturgical
in character. Hovhaness’s love of nature
is also implicit in his score, notably
the use of birdsong. Notable, too, are
the poignant episodes featuring a solo
flute in dialogue with the cello.
Janos Starker plays
robustly but also with reverence and
sensitivity and Davies’ support is colourful
Hovhaness himself conducts
a most affecting performance, by the
same orchestra of his Symphony No. 22
"City of Light". (He became
the Orchestra’s Composer in Residence
after he settled in the City in 1962)
The Symphony was commissioned from the
Birmingham (Alabama) Symphony Orchestra
in recognition of the City’s centennial
celebrations. But the name "City
of Light", according to Hovhaness,
derived from his thoughts of "a
million lights – an imaginary city."
This city seems to exist beyond the
limits of space and time. There is a
wonderful luminosity about the writing.
The outer movements have long spanned
majestic melodies and a grand spirit
of exultation - and an attractive mystical
quality that is often reminiscent of
Vaughan Williams. The enchanting middle
movement, as described by the composer,
is "a memory of a childhood vision
I had… I was always affected by Christmas."
A most rewarding album.
How extraordinary that a Cello Concerto
of this quality has lain unperformed
and unrecorded for so long. And Hovhaness’s
own reading of "City of Light"