The Music for String Quartet
String Quartet No. 1 Jupiter
String Quartet No. 3 Reflections on my Childhood
String Quartet No. 4 The Ancient
Song of the
The Delos US Classics series promised great things. In fairness, before
it went into freefall, it transformed and continues to transform the catalogue.
Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony reigned buoyant striking outwards
ambitiously and starting so many integral editions. The Hanson series achieved
a full cycle. The Piston, Diamond, Schuman and Mennin never made it but what
was issued was at least good and often much better than that. There were
quite a few Hovhaness discs of which this one, fulsome in playing time, is
an excellent example.
The Bagatelles are discreet unambitious, rhapsodic and self-confident.
The vulnerability of the music prompts thoughts of Vaughan Williams'
Lark Ascending and Flos Campi.
The quartets were all written to be played at Hovhaness's home with friends.
The Jupiter weaves a stern vein into a regretful pavane related more
to the Faure than the Ravel. Reminiscences of Haydn and Beethoven and a 'buzzsaw'
flightiness. The Spirit Murmur from the second quartet abandons the
classical for the accustomed exoticism of the gamelan, the swaying rhapsody
(in which the cello raptly serves as orator) and the almost inaudible pizzicato.
The hymn 'All glory laud and honour' is all but quoted. A pity we could not
have been given the complete quartet.
The final two quartets (of four) are here in their entirety. Reflections
on my childhood is, in nostalgic intent, similar to Barber's Knoxville
although not a work of such mastery as the Barber. Its vagrant tonality
and sirening violins (Fra Angelico again although there is also a
Romanian and even a Moroccan accent) is familiar. The work has a Wordsworthian
reverence for childhood and an awed spirituality.
The Fourth Quartet again returns to the world of childhood from an adult
perspective. Under The Ancient Maple Tree recalls distant summers
in slow unemphatic rhapsodies, fugal round dances fit for 'The Graces' and
in the same angelic celebration we find in Mozart's K364 Sinfonia
The piece by Zhou Long is pleasant and ventures, amid much pizzicato work,
further out on the branchline towards atonality than Hovhaness would have
countenanced. I was not overly struck with it and remain regretful that the
whole of the second quartet was not included.
There are useful liner notes and the Delos sound good, tight and clear -
not too distant.
Recommendable especially for those put off by the complexity of Hovhaness's
orchestral scores. Here the melodic material is presented unadorned and with
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Catalogue of works