Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
The Holy City Op. 218 (1965)
Celestial Fantasy Op. 44 (1935 orch. 1944)
Psalm and Fugue Op. 40a (1941)
Alleluia and Fugue Op. 40b (1941)
Processional and Fugue Op. 76 No. 5 (1975)
In Memory of an Artist Op. 163 (1958)
Armenian Rhapsody No. 2 Op. 51 (1944)
Armenian Rhapsody No. 3 Op. 189 (1944)
Ladislav Strešnák (trumpet)
Adriana Antalová (harp)
Slovak Radio SO (Bratislava)/Kerry Stratton
Rec. Concert Hall, Slovak Radio, Bratislava, Oct 1997
DORIAN DOR-93166 [62.19]


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Aside from being rather short on playing time for a CD (an ‘offence’ exacerbated by the acreage of unrecorded Hovhaness that could have been added) this is an extremely good collection. These are predominantly early works (seven of the five are from the 1940s) and the disc is recommendable to the curious and to the nervous explorer. In some of his symphonies (and also in Mountains and Rivers Without End) Hovhaness can push the envelope and challenge those who might have difficulties with Ligeti, Stockhausen or Cage. There is some grit in this collection. For example in The Holy City. This affords a succinct essay in Hovhaness technique with its episodes of slowly slaloming violin melisma (exactly as in the almost contemporaneous concert overture Fra Angelico), cantorial trumpet solos and Tallis Fantasia meditations for the strings.

The Alleluia and Fugue must surely have influenced Arnold Rosner (well worth exploring on Albany) in its blend of oriental and with hints of the much later Vaughan Williams’ Concerto Grosso for strings. Processional and Fugue (these bipartite titles recall one of Creston’s accustomed formats) has a distinctly Armenian sway with hints of temple dances and in the more ecstatic expressive moments pointing towards the contemporaneous Tippett Concerto for Double String Orchestra. Processional and Fugue has an undulant role for the oratorical trumpet and is both florid and incisive in the fugue with a most unusual (for Hovhaness) chasseur horn call.

Celestial Fantasy is the earliest piece. It must have been one of the few saved from the bonfire of his allegedly Sibelian vanities. Middle Eastern ululation meets gravely reflective music. Along the way there are moments which may remind well travelled listeners of Vaughan Williams’ Dives and Lazarus Variants and Shostakovich’s Razliv movement. The austere Third Rhapsody ascends into a dervish-whirl, bright with hysteria and sharp as a scimitar. In Memory of an Artist is a tribute to Sarah Berman with a murmurous mid-range violin melody offset by pizzicato. The superbly joyous string writing will appeal to those who like Warlock (Capriol) and Moeran (Serenade). The adagio writing is particularly warm. Among these comforting episodes you also encounter a furiously buzzing stridulation. The Psalm and Fugue offers a warm cocoon of string sound. Nothing strident appears. This music is closest to Finzi yet offers a more passionately torrential swell.

The designers and builders of this fine concert hall must also take a bow alongside the engineers and orchestra. I have already remarked on this superb acoustic in reviews of the symphonies of Alexander Moyzes (Marco Polo). It is lively, delivering both power, transparency and warmth. If you have a concert hall to design go to the team who produced this one. The orchestra sounds full-bodied in this hall.

Decent English only liner notes are by Steven Lowe.

There is no direct comparison. Of course there are other good compilations on Telarc and on Crystal. This is perhaps a softer edged introduction than some although it is by no means bland. Spirituality is its strong suit as are the performance and recording values. If you enjoy this then by all means move on to the Crystal CDs of the Majnun and St Vartan symphonies.

Rob Barnett


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