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Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
Concerto No. 7 for Orchestra, Op. 116 (1953) [20:35]
(I. Allegretto [5:50]; II. Allegro [Jhala-Scherzo] [4:05]; III. Double Fugue [10:40])
Symphony No. 15, Op. 199, Silver Pilgrimage (1963) [20:53]
(I. Mount Ravana [4:37]; II. Marava Princess [2:33]; III. River of Meditation [7:29]; IV. Heroic Gates of Peace [6:04])
Magnificat for four solo voices, chorus and orchestra, Op. 157 (1957) [29:47]
(I. Celestial Fanfare [2:01]; II. Magnificat (chorus); [2:07]; III. Et Exsultavit (tenor); [1:51]; IV. Quia Respexit (soprano); [2:26]; V. Omnes Generationes (womenís chorus) [1:14]; VI. Quia Fecit Mihi Magna (baritone and chorus) [2:05]; VII. Et Misericordia (soprano); [2:17]; VIII. Fecit Potentiam (alto) [2:37]; IX. Esurientes Implevit Bonis (tenor and men's chorus) [2:27]; X. Suscepit Israel (womenís chorus) [1:14]; XI. Sicut Locutus Est (baritone and chorus) [3:26]; XII. Gloria Patri (chorus) [6:01])
Audrey Nossaman, soprano; Thomas East, tenor; Elizabeth Johnson, contralto; Richard Dales, baritone
University of Louisville Choir/Walter O. Dahlin
Louisville Orchestra/Robert S. Whitney
Executive producer: Matthew Walters
Original Supervising Producer: Howard Scott
Recording engineer: Adjutor Theroux
Mixing engineer: Harold Chapman
Reissue mastering: Joe Gashwirt Mastering
Annotation: Alan Hovhaness and Marco Shirodkar
world premiere recordings
FIRST EDITION FECD-0006 [71:35]

 

The music of Alan Hovhaness, who died in 2000, still has it in its viscera to engage the musical public. While some of his wilder reaches (Vishnu symphony and Mountains and Rivers Without End) link with Ligeti and Stockhausen much of his output is rhapsodic, mystical, melodic, dancing, grave and joyous.

Like Martinů and Brian he was astoundingly productive. While Martinů wrote only six symphonies Hovhaness wrote 67. Thatís more than twice Brianís complement of 32. He continued writing until his mid-eighties when ill health intervened. His output would have been even more mountainous if he had not had his own intentional bonfire of the vanities when circa 1940 he burnt many of his scores from the 1930s. From that purging came many extraordinary and unusual works. His worth is not a matter of gross measurement. The gradual and continuing process of assaying has revealed much that is worthy and of very great beauty. Amongst his most notable works are And God Created Great Whales, which includes a part for recordings of whale song, the Saint Vartan Symphony, which proceeds in many small panels, visions of strange chaos and arcane ecstasy as in the symphonies Vishnu and Ani and seraphic works such as the overture Fra Angelico. There are 467 opus numbers and quite apart from the symphonies there are seven operas, 22 concertos and 67 sonatas for various instrument combinations.

This present disc is one of the longest playing in the First Edition series. Matthew Waltersí label offers three substantial scores from the 1950s and 1960s. It is a valuable contribution to the CD catalogue making accessible the seventh of Hovhanessís concertos for orchestra, a symphony of delights and a devout Magnificat. Although these are all recording premieres two of the featured works have appeared on CD before now. The Magnificat op. 157 is Anglican traditional. It is well worth hearing but written with patent acknowledgement to its commissioning source. The previous recording was made by Donald Pearson conducting the Choirs and Orchestra of St. Johnís Cathedral, Denver on the now deleted Delos 3176. Perhaps it will resurface on Naxos as many of the Delos American series have. The Concerto No. 7 has also been recorded on Delos but before that there was a BBC broadcast by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alun Francis. This was broadcast on 20 January 1983 - a rare piece of BBC recognition for Hovhaness who despite one excellent slot as composer of the week a couple of years ago still seems to be viewed with suspicion there. This is despite the fact that back in the BBCís adventurous and enlightened 1930s, Leslie Heward conducted the premiere of Hovhanessís Symphony No. 1 The Exile in the studio.

The Concerto No. 7 was written to a Louisville commission and is dedicated to the orchestra. It was written between August and October 1953. This confident and magnificent performance was recorded in glowing mono some six months later. The work is in three movements, the first of which reverberates with the suggestion of the Orient conjured by bells, woodwind and especially flutes. Within the movement there is a central canzona-hymn for brass. The second movement deploys pizzicato and the multiple impacts of porcelain water cups hit with a stick suggestive of gamelan. There is not once the hint of Ketèlbeyan kitsch. Hovhaness drives his illuminating inspiration razor-sharp into something essentially mysterious in something exotically liturgical. In the finale after a gloomy and subdued introduction there is a monumental string-flighted fugal paean glancing toward Handel, Tippett and Oriental modes. Brass take up the coursing magnificence and then steadily fade down aided by the radiant glow of string tremolandi and ceremonial impacts on the tam-tam.

It is a while since I have heard the Delos version of the Concerto but I know that the Alun Francis version through which I came to know this piece lacks the piled on intensity and vivacity of this version. The performance transcends the limitations of the single audio channel in much the same way as the contemporaneous Swedish mono recording of Blomdahlís I Speglarnas Sal. A demonstration disc providing ample evidence of the loving care lavished both at the original sessions, for the storage over five decades and re-mastering.

The Symphony is just as good. In the 1960s Hovhaness spent much time in Korea, Japan and India. As Marco Shirodkar tells us, Silver Pilgrimage synthesises elements of Japanese Gagaku traditions with Indian modes and materials. It is a compact four movement piece. The first opens with a mysterious blizzard of staggered pizzicatos; this is to return. Brass moan in dissonance. Percussion enter and leave in enigmatic pointillism. A harp ostinato provides a moving backdrop. The Marava Princess movement again has a pizzicato line but the middle strings sing a fast-flowing long enchanting melody. The River of Meditation sounds distinctly Britten-like (Morning from the Grimes Interludes) with dissonance, more string pizzicato (suggestive of the river) and subterranean bass contributions from drums and harp. Heroic Gates of Peace rounds out the work with timpani punctuation and over the steady radiance of the strings a warmly glowing brass hymn. This sings out in growing confidence and universality glimmeringly suggestive of Vaughan Williams but distinctive and personal.

Back to mono for the twelve movement Magnificat which plays for half and hour. Calm brass peaceable and slightly supplicatory. Apart from the occasional harmonic twist this music has one foot firmly struck into the Three Choirs tradition. Try the Quia fecit mihi magna. The other foot stamps down the through orchestral part: distinctly Hovhaness with string tremors, brass hymns, moderate dissonance and harp patterning. The Esurientes implevit bonis begins in a grand ffff shuddering and bristling of the strings before making way for the imploring Richard Dales and the choir. A Finzian oboe ushers in the womenís chorus for the sweetly serenading Suscepit Israel. The Gloria Patri finale makes prominent use of the sinuously cantorial solo trumpet and the muscular celebratory tones of the full choir. To many Western ears the Gloria will seem to ring out like a Christmas carol accentuated by the closely recorded bell strokes and the Rozsa-like glow to the singing.

All these works are conducted by Robert S. Whitney (1904-1986). Perhaps Jorge Mester, Whitneyís successor in 1967, was unsympathetic to Hovhanessís music.

The analogue origins of these recordings are tactfully announced by a gentle untroubling hiss. However the intrinsic quality of the sound with close-up microphone placement is very pleasing: meaty and undistorted.

The English-only notes are splendidly detailed and are provided by Marco Shirodkar, the composer, Howard Scott and Matt Walters. The words of the Magnificat are not provided.

Listeners who search out lyrical and unusually rewarding music with a spiritual dimension need look no further. This is an outstandingly rewarding disc.

Rob Barnett

 



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