Looking to the East
COWELL Homage to Iran,
Colin McPHEE Nocturne,
Alan HOVHANESSKoke no Niwa,
The Holy City, Ave Maria, Christmas Ode, Easter Cantata. (details
Leopold Stokowski and
his orchestra; Hessian Radio SO/David Van Vactor; Bamberg SO/Bavarian Radio
CRI CD 836 [76.29]
These are all analogue recordings
freshened and revived from the decade: 1957 to 1968. They present a fascinating
and unexpected aspect of American classical music: the varying impact of
Oriental modes on contemporary music.
The album is dedicated to one of the least remembered founders and developers
of CRI. It was Oliver Daniel (1911-1990) who, in 1954, with composers Otto
Luening and Douglas Moore, founded CRI. Daniel's incalculable services to
the music of the States was adventurous, cutting edge and catholic. His role
in securing funding for scholarships for foreign travel, for recordings,
broadcasts and performances was phenomenal. He was responsible for Stokowski's
world premiere in 1965 of Ives' Fourth Symphony. Having completed a major
book on Stokowski he was locked into a similar project on Mitropoulos but
his death prevented its completion.
The present disc tells many of us for the first time of the contribution
of Oliver Daniel
LOU HARRISON (b.1917)
Suite for violin, piano and small orchestra
Anahid and Maro Ajemian (violins), Leopold Stokowski and his
The suite is wistfully suggestive of oriental miniatures, broadly alternating
slow-fast across the six movements. Throughout, it breathes the air of the
welcoming gamelan: patterned, syncopated, energetic, jazzy and restless with
motive power. The concluding Chorale lulls and sways in true minimalist style
offset by gong-strokes and metallic impacts.
Homage to Iran (1959)
Leopold Avakian (violin), Mitchell Andrews (piano), Basil Bahar (Persian
Premiered in the Shah of Iran's Palace in 1959, the Homage was for a duo.
The hollow tenor of the drum was to be evoked through the pianist muting
the piano strings with his hands. The work is rhapsodic, avoids quotation
of folk melodies and uses the slow razor of Muslim ululation to impart a
sense of 'otherness'. After a waspishly strident Interlude the andante is
as rhapsodic as the big first movement. The finale retains those capricious
elements with the same dashing panache as, say, Saint-Saens Caprice Andalou
amid a piano part which is a not too distant echo of the fate motif from
COLIN MCPHEE (1901-1964)
Nocturne for chamber orchestra (1958)
Hessian Radio SO/David Van Vactor
This is a Nocturne of trembling, almost Straussian, richness. In contrast
with other night-pieces the music is not about sleep but the vitality of
nocturnal life. Its glistening soundworld resembles that of Reich and Nyman.
McPhee spent the years 1931 to 1939 in Bali. His 78s of 'gamelan anklung'
in a duo with Benjamin Britten are well worth hearing.
Koke No Niwa (1954)
Melvin Kaplan (English horn), Walter Rosenberger, Elden Bailey
(percussion), Ruth Negri (harp), Alan Hovhaness (conductor).
The Holy City for trumpet large chime harp and strings (1965)
Elgar Howarth (trumpet)
RPO/Arthur Bennett Lipkin.
Benita Valente (soprano)
Bamberg SO/Bavarian Radio Singers/Alfredo Antonini
Koke No Niwa (or The Moss Garden) seems heavy with the perfume of
death with the cor anglais as the chief mourner amid a miniature (and closely
recorded) world of gentle Cage-isms. Much the most 'advanced' of the works
on this disc.
Holy City has it all: the ascendant oily violin slides, the bed
of 'breathless' strings redolent of the Finnish 'swan-master' and the trumpet
psalmster ushering in an unhurried reverential ecstasy.
In the Triptych the vocal parts are not overtly twisted by the Orient
except in a high layering of melisma. By contrast the orchestral canvas is
alive with exoticism. It is all there: the slitheringly ascendant violins
and the diminutive teeming filigree of an overturned anthill.
Approaching half of the playing time is absorbed by works by Hovhaness.
An extremely impressive collection in decent archive recordings. Not to be