Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Reviews from other months
ALAN HOVHANESS (1911-) Symphony No. 9 Saint Vartan (1949-50)* [43:51] Artik Concerto for Horn and Strings (1948) [17:55] ** * National PO of London/Alan Hovhaness, **Meir Rimon (horn) **Israel PO/David Amos Recorded * London 1974; ** Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv, 1982 CRYSTAL RECORDS CD802 [61:54]



Even at the grocer's level of sheer numbers, the 27 symphonies of Miaskovsky and the 32 of Havergal Brian are dwarfed by the 67+ symphonies of Alan Hovhaness. The completion of the Miaskovsky and Brian symphonies on CD seems quite manageable in this context with the completion of both cycles almost in our grasp. As a pursuer and listener of all three cycles on disc and on broadcast tape I still need to hear the Hovhaness symphonies 3, 10, 14, 27-28, 30, 32-35, 37, 41-42, 44-45, 49, 51-56 and 59 onwards in any form. Of the symphonies I have heard quite a few are available on CD. Crystal offers most of these.

The Scottish-Armenian-US composer started his symphonic journey in 1933 with a symphony in three movements. This was performed by the New England Conservatory of Music but the work was destroyed by the composer in the mid 1940s. The same fate was shared by six other symphonies, five string quartets, operas and many piano pieces. The surviving symphony from that era is the one now known as no. 1 The Exile Op. 17, completed in 1936, and premiered under the baton of Leslie Heward by the BBC in 1939. No. 1 is available on Delos.

The imposingly intriguing Saint Vartan symphony from the end of the potent and turbulent 1940s is dedicated to the Mytilene artist Hermon Digiovanno who became a spiritual guide to Hovhaness. It comprises 24 patins (or tiles) each lasting less than five minutes; some very substantially less. This is mosaic-like music. Sadly the individual patins are not separately tracked on this disc. There are only two tracks for the symphony.

The first episode inevitably reminds the listener of the Fauré Pavane speeded up. The following processional is a canon for three trumpets with percussion and explosive interventions from the gong. Then come three arias for strings and solo brass instruments. They and their counterparts in the second part speak a still small and peaceful voice amongst the storm. The horn has a lilt and dip familiar from the film music of Miklos Rózsa (El Cid). Then comes a Bar (dance) with thunderous timpani and Tabor a religious processional. The succeeding canon features tip-toe violins emulating an insect army creeping across a darkling plain. In the next sequence the vibraphone (in a tribute perhaps to Roy Harris) lofts the string passage on high. In the Bar the swirling violins suggest a wind of swords and the Estampie is a vigorous dance (on some strange village sward) and hectic buzzing insects. To relieve the orchestral tone there follows a Lament for trombone and piano in which the composer plays the piano. The troubled piano part reminded me of de Falla's Love The Magician. The sequences which conclude part 1 include a double canon for percussion, trumpet and strings, a dance featuring awesome roles (and rolls) for timps and gong; all in an atmosphere of exotic Medieval antiquity. Part 2's opening Yerk (a celebration of erotic love) is scored for alto sax, timps and vibraphone. There is an Estampie and a canon for timps, vibraphone and strings. The high dance for violins is suffused with noble life. The concluding Estampie reeks of the Medievalism which I (regardless of the era in which they lived) associate with Susato and Vejvanowsky.

Vartan might be seen as one of the life-springs of minimalism (e.g. in Reich's much undervalued Variations for orchestra). The symphony was premiered on 11 March 1951 at Carnegie Hall with the NYPSO conducted by the composer. As a work it demands the attention of everyone who believes in the chaotic variety of 20th century symphonism. Along the way it delivers a spiritual impact reserved to very few works.

The shorter but still substantial Artik concerto is in 8 short movements including a pizzicato of religious melody, a ballata and laudi and a motet for Tallis-like strings. A pattern is apparent: alternating in almost every one of the eight segments strings, solo horn and then strings again. The work is largely reflective and serious but the horn part is not beyond expressing an affable joy. Part of this work was inspired by seeing Mt Conway, in the USA, during a bus journey.

These recordings are from analogue tapes re-recorded digitally. I heard no hiss at my usual listening level.

The four-fold leaflet is in English only. The leaflet offer good detailed notes and biographical info on the composer and the artists. There is a good photo of Amos and Rimon. The two photos of Hovhaness include a superb candid of Hovhaness conducting on the back of the notesheet. A strangely outlined photo of the composer is used for the cover.


Rob Barnett

Price 16.95 US dollars plus 2 US dollars per shipping within USA. Orders from outside the USA please contact Crystal direct for quote. Credit card orders (Visa or MC) are accepted. Crystal Records 28818 NE Hancock Rd Camas, WA 98607 phone 360-834-7022, fax 360-834-9680 email:



Rob Barnett

Return to Index