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Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
Khrimian Hairig, Op. 49 (1944-48) [07:58]
Guitar Concerto, Op. 325 (1979) [31:58]
Symphony No. 60 To the Appalachian Mountains Op. 396 (1985) [33:34]
Lars Ranch (trumpet)
David Leisner (guitar)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin Dalheim, Germany, 6-8 July 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.559294 [73:24]

Hovhaness wrote 67 symphonies between 1937 and 1992 although there was an eighteen year gap between the first two. His website has a discography that, if complete, would seem to suggest that - despite multiple recordings of the second and sixth symphonies - rather than less than half of the canon has yet been recorded, and most of the later works remained unrecorded. Indeed, before this record was issued, the latest number listed as being recorded was No. 53. So, at bargain price in the American Classics Series on Naxos, this is a welcome opportunity to hear one of his later symphonies. It is also a very attractive looking programme with the Guitar Concerto and a mini-trumpet concerto providing the couplings in a sensible order.

Khrimian Hairig here fulfils the function of an overture. It is an example of a relatively early work harking back to composer’s Armenian roots. Khrimian Hairig was an Armenian priest and the music was inspired by a portrait of him. Over a slow-burning string accompaniment the solo trumpet soon enters and plays an almost continuous stream of mesmerising melody. Fine control of line from the soloist is needed and provided by Lars Ranch.

The Guitar Concerto is as substantial as most in the genre. It has not been recorded before and is perhaps the most compelling reason to acquire the disc. There are three movements – each of the last two in a faster tempo than its predecessor but this music is never very fast. The Largo opener is an extended rhapsody with colourful but never over-intrusive orchestration. An Andante espressivo which follows has a timeless feel to it but the finale must be a rhythmic nightmare to play given the number of changes of time signature (including 11/8) within a 50-odd bar melodic span. But David Leisner copes admirably and is a most sensitive soloist. Throughout the work there is excellent rapport between soloist and conductor, and the guitar is most naturally balanced by the engineers.

The Symphony No. 60 was commissioned by a commercial organisation to celebrate the cultural heritage of the state of Tennessee. It is in four movements, the first and third of which are in slow tempi. The programmatic elements reflect Appalachian culture as well as the mountains and the third movement is based on the anonymously composed song Parting Friends. The first performance was apparently a major disappointment to the composer and plans to record it were shelved - until now. The music is highly characteristic of the composer and the brief third movement is most memorable.

Conductor Gerard Schwarz is a fine exponent of such music. I presume the record was made in Germany for pragmatic reasons but the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra seem convinced.

There are admirable programme notes by composer’s sixth wife - that’s an average of about 11 symphonies per wife - the time he spent composing may been relevant - and widow, soprano Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness. These reflect not only on the music but also on the man and his philosophy that music is "not for snobs but for all people". But there is no need to say more because they can be read in full here (click on "About this recording").

This disc certainly deserves to be widely heard and the atmospheric Guitar Concerto is a real find.

Patrick C Waller

see also Review by Rob Barnett

Link to further information about Hovhaness on MusicWeb

Naxos American Classics page



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