Naxos are moving with implacable determination around the towering
edifice that is the Hovhaness catalogue. Disc after disc is added
to their catalogue and discoveries are being made at every turn.
This latest volume, set in the context of their American Classics
series continues the track record established by: 8.559294
(Symphony 60; Guitar Concerto 1), 8.559207
(Symphonies 4, 20, 53) and 8.559128
(Cello Concerto, Symphony 22).
As is evident from the Saxophone
Concerto Hovhaness can be unpredictable and so he proves
here. The wonderfully titled Fanfare for the New Atlantis
is more of a tone poem with aspects of fanfare in-built.
His regal and confident brass writing has the trappings of
antiquity - a touch of the Gabriellis - but there is also
a sense of modernity, of prayer and of invocation. The most
stately aspects of the fanfares at 5:10 recall the striding
brass writing in Vaughan Williams' Pilgrim's Progress.
The origin of the piece seems unknown though it may have some
connection with the Francis Bacon Society which believes that
Shakespeare was Bacon's pen-name. Hovhaness was a member of
the Society. Amongst Bacon's writings is The New Atlantis.
In any event this Fanfare defies clichés you may have absorbed
from knowing the examples by Bliss, Walton and Benjamin. This
fanfare is recorded, as are all three works, with lavish resonance
yet with no loss in definition.
The Guitar Concerto No. 2 was commissioned
by Narciso Yepes who gave the work its premiere at the Granada
Festival in 1990, five years after its completion. This may have
been delayed by the tragic death of Yepes' son in the year in
which the concerto was completed. There were no other performances
after the premiere. Javier Calderón who commissioned the First
Guitar Concerto plays it here although David Leisner made the
first recording of the guitar concerto (Naxos 8.559294).
The Concerto No. 2 is in four movements. The first is an andante
which is delicate, stately and Moorish in character. The allegro
giusto recalls the Ravel string quartet in its pizzicato and
Rodrigo's Aranjuez in the guitar writing. The andante
misterioso makes use of the composer's trademark in surging
and searching unison strings alternating with guitar solo. The
two commune in invocation and response. The final adagio, allegro
giusto combines the sinuous North African arcana of the first
movement with a delicate heel-and-toe dance (2:06) over pizzicato.
It will have most listeners wanting to play this piece again and
In the Loon Lake Symphony Hovhaness
looks back in the first movement (Prelude) through
the hybrid Celtic-Oriental cor anglais melody to holidays
in New Hampshire. We should remember that Hovhaness spent
time at his uncle's New Hampshire farm. The commission for
this work came in 1987 from the New Hampshire Music Festival.
The opulent yet understated carpet of the orchestra comprises
a delicate interplay of harp, bells, and pizzicato strings
murmuring and strumming. The contemplative and partially Debussian
second and last movement includes an Andante misterioso
which seems to wander in a trance through those countryside
memories. The sound of the loon is quoted in this evocative
movement (4:30 and 15:03). The co-commissioner of the Symphony
was the Loon Preservation Society. The dialogue of woodwind
and the steady dripping of harp hold the attention. The flute
and oboe have a louche and jazzy character (12:46) over a
pizzicato string backdrop. This develops into an episode which
has the clarinet singing a Holstian melody which has something
of the greensward about it (14:10). The rhapsodic curl of
the woodwind solos resonates with Vaughan Williams - this
time the Antarctica rather than the Tallis Fantasia.
This is a most beautiful and naturally eloquent symphony.
The grand Purcellian statements which are a Hovhaness watermark
are here added silver livery by the harp’s expressive endowment.
Over this grandeur the trumpet cries out in a further evocation
of the loon.
The notes are helpful and specific - always
valuable with Hovhaness – and add to the delights of this
Naxos are in their element with the Hovhaness
symphonies. Don't stop now; of a total of 67 there are plenty
of unrecorded symphonies to tackle.
I cannot over-emphasise how attractive
this music is. Hovhaness wrote in the 1960s of the importance
of identifying our own kind of beauty. These three works bear
him out completely.