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Looking to the East
Lou HARRISON Suite, Henry COWELL Homage to Iran, Colin McPHEE Nocturne, Alan HOVHANESSKoke no Niwa, The Holy City, Ave Maria, Christmas Ode, Easter Cantata. (details below)
  Leopold Stokowski and his orchestra; Hessian Radio SO/David Van Vactor; Bamberg SO/Bavarian Radio Singers/Alfredo Antonini
 CRI CD 836 [76.29]
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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

Suite for violin, piano and small orchestra (1951)
Anahid and Maro Ajemian (violins), Leopold Stokowski and his orchestra

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 drum)

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 Beethoven 5.

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.
Triptych (1952-1996)
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 ignored.

Rob Barnett


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