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Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra (1954) [20.51]*
Three Pieces for two pianos +: Mihr (1945) [9.25]; Ko-ola-u (1962) [2.19]; Vijag (1946) [3.44]
Lousadzak – concerto for piano and orchestra (1944) [18.56]++
Martin Berkofsky (piano, on all pieces) with
Atakan Sari (piano 2)*
Globalis Symphony Orchestra/Konstantin Krimets
Sergei Podobedov (piano 2)+
Nikolai Zherenkov (violin)++
Recorded at Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, March 2003 (Concerto for two pianos), House of Sound, Moscow, March and June 2004 (remainder)
BLACK BOX BBM1103 [55.21]

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We have three works from Hovhaness for piano and various forces one of which will have escaped the attention of all but the most dedicated follower. This is the Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, written in 1954 but only premiered, by these forces, in Moscow in 2004. It’s a work that characteristically abjures virtuosic strut and pyrotechnics and concentrates instead on sonority and intriguing conjunctions. The opening is in full Hovhaness Renaissance style – rich, full, especially the brass that puts one in mind of ermined and ruffed ceremonial. The pianos sound more elliptical, full of plinking suggestions, decorative filigree and a surging VW nobility (I thought of Dives and Lazarus). There are very occasional dissonant interjections and a big role for the percussion towards the end of the first movement. In the slow movement he evokes the kanun – as the notes explain this is a zither-like instrument – and this, allied to important roles for brass and wind, includes a raga section. With the finale we have the cyclical return of the Renaissance ceremonial as well as more Indian derived motifs that drive forward with passion though the former leads to reiteration of the bold brass and wind themes before they’re taken up by the full orchestra; a gong crash lends a triumphant feel to the triumphant end.

The three pieces for two pianos comprise Mihr (1945), Vijag (1946) and Ko-ola-u (1962). They’re all short and brilliantly inventive. Mihr was the Armenian fire god and once more Hovhaness has recourse to kanun imitation as he had in the concerto for two pianos rendering an Eastern cast to the music for its entire length. Ruminative, feasting on repetition, it also evokes a faster allegro type drive; what strikes the ear most forcibly however are the ebullient patterns that seem to prefigure in some way minimalism without ever sinking into its frequent banality and bathos. Vijag is associated with an Armenian feast of Ascension and it had me hypnotised with its four-minute drone. Ko-ola-u is the most recent, named after a Hawaiian mountain range; ceremonial counterpoint over a drone inform this one, as does lissom writing and rhythmic sophistication.

Lousadzakconcerto for piano and orchestra was written in 1944. It opens in a withdrawn way but soon leads to an extensive cadenza, kanun imitation and evocative sonorities that evoke the Persian and Turkish lutes. Hovhaness writes a splendid passage for solo violin and plenty of treble flecked writing for the piano and directly summons up the sounds of bagpipes in a work that teems with colour as well as repetitive rhythmic gestures.

The performances, needles to say, are highly accomplished; to them we owe the premiere of the Concerto for two pianos and orchestra. The recorded sound is sympathetic and warm, the notes helpful and the first recording of the concerto makes this, I’d have thought, a mandatory purchase for Hovhaness admirers.

Jonathan Woolf

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