Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:


Khaldis - concerto for piano, four trumpets and percussion (1951) 18.58
Mount Katahdin - piano sonata (1987) 13.16
Fantasy - piano solo (1944) 19.14
(Khaldis - Martin Berkofsky (piano) Lawrence Sobol (cond), trumpets William Rohdin Dan Cahn, Francis Bonny, Patrick Dougherty, Percussion Neal Boyar rec 1972. Sonata: Martin Berkofsky: Fantasy: composer

The CD booklet cover dredges up memories of those black and white Poseidon LP sleeves that originally presented many of the Hovhaness works now hosted in Crystal's bountiful catalogue. It uses the same engraving of a dilapidated church set in a rolling wilderness. It is in keeping with the music which also leans heavily towards the Orient. Now when I say that of Hovhaness I do not mean that the music has anything to do with the Ketelbeyan kitsch. The composer is in deadly earnest and sincerity about the mysticism and ritual of Eastern cultures.

In Khaldis, which is sparingly orchestrated, the trumpets are used rather differently than in say Avak the Healer or the handful of other trumpet and orchestra works. Here there is less of a hieratic cantorial quality and more quasi-Purcellian funereal grandeur. This is encased in piano-writing close to de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain. From much of this music the composer could easily have struck out down turnpikes taken by John Cage or Henry Cowell or Colin McPhee or Ruggles. In this sense the music is fitfully among the most modernistically challenging he wrote - close to the extremes of the Vishnu symphony or Mountains and Rivers Without End (both available on Crystal). The work falls into 7 sections with various portions for distinct combinations of instruments and the piano playing a lead and frequently solo role.

The music is half threatening, half reverential. The piano solos speak of a rugged and pioneering spirit. The four trumpets ripple and weave in ritualistic Atlantean display harshly soused in a collision of antiphonal effects. In Bhajana there is an accelerated twinkle of stars - sincerity and authentic reverence. Jhala is a winner and could easily have been inspired by one of the Chants de l'Auvergne.

The spirit of the Processional carries over into the big Solenne of the Mt Katahdin piano sonata. That first (of 4 movements) takes as long as the other three put together. An Irish brogue (links with Cowell and his Gaelic propensity, I wonder?) hangs over the Baxian Lullaby. The quiet glimmer of Jhala of Larch Tees is succeeded by a rather four-square Maestoso Tragico.

Crystal have resurrected the composer's own recording of the Fantasy for piano. This now co-exists with Crystal's Wayne Johnson collection of Hovhaness solo piano music. This is in ten 'Dan' or steps which are not separately banded. This is an even more 'way-out' work than Khaldis. It is played partly on the keyboard and partly inside the piano using miscellaneous beaters, picks and hand movements. In this sense we see the obvious parallels with John Cage. The music is mildly challenging. As with the other two works repeated notes and motifs blend and burst with meditative, thunderous and cataclysmic effects. Simple tunes are intoned as ragas. The piano is put through many strange paces drowned in oceanic depths. The minimalists like Reich, Glass and Nyman have surely learnt much from Hovhaness.

A steady minimal hiss can be detected when listening with headphones. There is some evidence, again under the close scrutiny of headphones, of a dusting of distortion in the coruscating antiphonal trumpet arias of Khaldis.

The Notes by the composer are rather technical but Martin Berkofsky's are more approachable.

In summary this collection focuses on Hovhaness the Oriental mystic and takes us deep into his more experimental work. Recording quality is enjoyably creditable but not as good as you might expect from the early 1970s session dates.

You would not start with this collection when there are so many other Hovhaness CDs in the Crystal collection. From another point of view the kinship between these three works and the authenticity of the composer's own performance of Fantasy make this a strong collection perhaps in the historical category.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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