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Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
Symphony No. 22 "City of Light" * (1971)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra + (1936)
*Janos Starker (cello)
Seattle Symphony/Dennis Russell Davies
+ Seattle Symphony/Alan Hovhaness
Rec * Benaroya Hall, Seattle, March 19th 1999; + Seattle Center Opera House, May 1992
NAXOS 8.559158 [60:49]

This recording of Alan Hovhaness’s Cello Concerto is something of a coup for Naxos. For this is the world premiere of the work consigned, in 1940, by its composer to the trash can, an extraordinary act of self sacrifice, considering its obvious merits, along with close on 1,000 other of his compositions. Although he later retrieved it, the Concerto was not performed until 1975 when Hovhaness, curious as to its worth, led a student performance at Western Washington University at Bellingham.

This melodic work is cast in three movements: a short 3½-minute central Allegro framed by a 16-minute opening Andante-Maestoso and a concluding 12-minute Andante, but, unconventionally, in a slow-fast-slow three-movement pattern Unlike much of Hovhaness’s work there is a lack of contrapuntal construction but an evocative use of old modes. The music employs much of the oriental forms that Hovhaness favours often used sensually and languorously. Other material is loudly proud and eruptive. In contrast much of the music is serenely liturgical in character. Hovhaness’s love of nature is also implicit in his score, notably the use of birdsong. Notable, too, are the poignant episodes featuring a solo flute in dialogue with the cello.

Janos Starker plays robustly but also with reverence and sensitivity and Davies’ support is colourful and commanding

Hovhaness himself conducts a most affecting performance, by the same orchestra of his Symphony No. 22 "City of Light". (He became the Orchestra’s Composer in Residence after he settled in the City in 1962) The Symphony was commissioned from the Birmingham (Alabama) Symphony Orchestra in recognition of the City’s centennial celebrations. But the name "City of Light", according to Hovhaness, derived from his thoughts of "a million lights – an imaginary city." This city seems to exist beyond the limits of space and time. There is a wonderful luminosity about the writing. The outer movements have long spanned majestic melodies and a grand spirit of exultation - and an attractive mystical quality that is often reminiscent of Vaughan Williams. The enchanting middle movement, as described by the composer, is "a memory of a childhood vision I had… I was always affected by Christmas."

A most rewarding album. How extraordinary that a Cello Concerto of this quality has lain unperformed and unrecorded for so long. And Hovhaness’s own reading of "City of Light" sounds magnificent.

Ian Lace


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