recent years the Santa Fe Music Group has acquired the rights
to the Louisville Orchestra’s landmark First Edition Records.
The treasury of recorded sound has been drawn upon for the launch
of the First Edition Music label; some 38 titles.
This reissue from the First Edition Records back catalogue
comprises three world premičre recordings of works from the
pen of Alan Hovhaness. The recordings were
made in the Columbia Auditorium in Louisville, Kentucky between
1954 and 1965.
Hovhaness was born in the USA to Armenian and Scottish
parents. From the 1940s he felt ineluctably drawn to the culture,
legends, philosophy, languages, art and music of the East. Hovhaness
destroyed all the traditional Western music that he had composed
and from then on found the Near East, the Middle East and the
Far East a bountiful source of inspiration. Most of his works,
including symphonies and concertos, now assumed exotic titles,
just as they were musical interpretations of exotic subjects.
Marco Shirodkar explains in the sleeve-notes that Alan
Hovhaness is rightly known as a trend-setting pioneering composer
who melded East and West in music. Of the few modern composers
considered as ‘true originals’ he is one of the few whose music
has such a distinctive personality that it could not be mistaken
for that of any other. Shirodkar holds the view that unlike
the music of Messiaen, Hovhaness’s art is not religiously inspired,
in the traditional sense, but guided by a musical sensibility
attuned with otherworldly affinities.
Howard Scott, who was the supervising producer for the
original recording sessions, explains in his essay in the booklet
notes how he attributed the amazingly high productivity of the
Louisville players in the studio to their love of Hovhaness’s
newly composed scores and the meticulous preparations of their
conductor Robert Whitney.
In 1948, the management of the Louisville Orchestra made
the significant decision to commission several new works each
year and perform their world premičres; often conducted by the
Concerto No.7 for Orchestra, Op.116
three movement Concerto No. 7 for Orchestra was begun
in Cummington, Massachusetts in August 1953 and completed a
few weeks later in New York City. The score is one of Hovhaness’s
many concertos, some of which are without a soloist, and is
one of only a handful indexed by number. Regrettably, the evocatively
entitled ‘Mysterious Mountain’ Symphony has eclipsed
this earlier tour-de-force, which is a true sister piece
in that it too comprises three movements and incorporates a
the opening movement allegretto the entrance of the Louisville
brass at point 02.38 (track 1) is especially impressive. The
second movement allegro uses all sorts of unusual effects,
including porcelain water cups played by sticks and there are
also important parts for xylophone and glockenspiel. The extended
final movement is a double fugue, which is unsettled
and agitated in nature. The frenetic second fugue for
the strings is played at a feverish pace. One is left exhausted
by the sheer energy expended. There is an unexpected respite
at point 08.11 (track 3) from which develops a solemn but surprising
cadence. The Louisville Orchestra under Robert Whitney imbue
a mood of exoticism throughout the colourful score.
Symphony No.15 ‘Silver Pilgrimage’, Op.199
research periods in India, Japan and Korea afforded lessons
from native instrumentalists. This firsthand ethno-musicological
exposure prompted his Indo-Oriental phase in the 1960s. The
1963 score of the Symphony No.15 ‘Silver Pilgrimage’
synthesises elements of both the Japanese Gagaku and Indian
traditions and is named after the novel Silver Princess by
Justice Anantanarayanan which is a tale about a pilgrimage by
a young Indian prince. The score, like many of the Hovhaness
symphonies, eschews traditional symphonic architectonics; instead
each of the four movements portrays a specific concept or mood.
first movement titled Mount Ravana is said by Hovhaness
to suggest the mystery and wrath of a mountain prophet. Here
Whitney and his orchestra provide a disquieting and eerie atmosphere
that borders on the terrifying. The blaring brass and woodwind
spit out their fury especially at points: 03.05, 03.13. 03.38
and 03.43 (track 4). Mount Ravana feels like an evil
place to be. The second movement Marava Princess is lyrical
and dance-like, suggesting the idea or image of feminine grace.
In contrast to the opening movement, Marava Princess is
lithe and swift - almost like a gazelle. Everything here feels
as if it is in a hurry.
third movement (River of Meditation) portrays
the spirit of the religious river-side meditation of a sage.
The initial mood of relative calm comes as respite from what
has gone before. The repetitive flute and string lines feel
like mantras. The extended flute line represents the meditative
sage and the long string line, often in pizzicato, suggests
the flow of the river. The speed of the music unexpectedly moves,
at point 01.37 (track 6) from a leisurely pace to a darting
and rapid rate. In this performance an underlying anxiety prevails
which prevents a truly relaxed state of being. The Heroic
Gates of Peace is the name given to the final movement which
suggests the spirit of a peaceful reign of wisdom wherein harmony
is achieved between heaven and earth. There is muscular and
spirited playing with the brass and timpani dominating. The
movement strides quickly along and provides a sense of vast
open spaces, perhaps evocative of the American prairies.
Magnificat for Four Solo Voices, Chorus and Orchestra, Op.157
In twelve sections, the Magnificat, Mary’s song
of Thanksgiving on being told by the angel Gabriel that she
will bear the son of God, is based on a text from the first
chapter of St. Luke. Hovhaness stated, “I have tried to suggest
the mystery, inspiration and mysticism of early Christianity.”
Hovhaness makes effective and extensive use of the non-metrical
melodic line of plainsong.
Several of the Magnificat’s
twelve sections employ
Hovhaness’s trademark mysterious ‘free rhythm’ textures. This
is perhaps most striking when sung by the choir in the penultimate
movement Sicut Locutus Est for baritone and chorus. Here
we are led from silence to a swirling cloud of buzzing voices
which peaks and then recedes to nothingness. This is certainly
a striking and original work in which Hovhaness achieves his
singing, especially from the soloists, is not always ideal but
perfectly adequate to communicate the manifold qualities of
this unusual score.
sound is acceptable, yet variable in quality. Occasionally it
feels as if the recording was made in a tunnel not a recording
studio and there is some blaring from time to time in the forte
passages. I have read criticism of some of the brass playing,
however, this did not present too much of a problem. Overall
the sound quality, which is between fifty year old mono and
forty year old stereo, has been re-mastered pretty well. The
interesting and informative booklet notes in this well presented
release are a credit to the label.
of the unique sound world of Hovhaness will be in their element
with this reissue.