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Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
Music for Horn, Voice, and Strings

Artik - Concerto for Horn and String Orchestra, Op. 78 (1948) [18:25]
Psalm and Fugue No. 2 for Four Horns (1954) [4:30]
Concerto No. 3, Diran (The Religious Singer), Op. 94 (1948) [11:20]
Chahagir (Torchbearer) op. 56, no. 1 for solo viola (1944) [4:43]
Angelic Song, Cantata for Voice, Horn, and String Orchestra, Op. 19 (1947-48) [16:01]
Robin Dauer (horn)
Suzanne Banister (soprano)
Karen Griebling, viola
Hendrix College Chamber Orchestra/Karen Griebling
rec. May 2006, Reynolds Hall for the Performing Arts; Solus Recording Studio, both Conway, Arkansas. DDD,
CENTAUR CRC 2872 [55:00]

These Hovhaness horn-centred works come largely from the 1940s after the composer’s bonfire of the multitudinous Sibelian vanities of his youth; a rash decision I always thought.

Dedicated followers will take one look at the track-list and know that they are in for some duplication. Still it’s in the cause of getting to grips with some rare and otherwise unrecorded works. Of the ones previously recorded the eight movement mosaic that is the Artik horn concerto is in harness with the similarly mosaic-patterned St Vartan symphony on that home of the Hovhaness heritage, the Crystal label. Meir Rimon is the soloist with the Israel PO which is much larger than the Hendrix College forces. The orchestral execution is more polished in that case but Centaur’s recording for the eloquent Dauer is more transparent. Dauer perhaps has more trouble than Rimon in the quick-stepping Canon and Aria but there’s a hair’s breadth in it. Beyond that I could not pick and choose between the two versions which are radically differently coupled anyway. The style of Artik is strongly fingerprinted: great curvaceous dignified cantilenas, Tallis-like spirituality, fleetly-moving dances underpinned by the rapid pulse of string pizzicato. There is a momentary audio distortion at 2:07 in the final movement. The extremely useful liner notes tell us that the horn functions here as the caller and the strings as the choir providing a response. Artik is a seventh century Armenian church with eight sides.

The diptychal Psalm and Fugue for Four Horns is an exercise in resonance and interplay. Again the mood is serene and devotional. It is a very satisfyingly rounded work. The Diran Concerto found its name from Diran Dinjian who was cantor at the Armenian Church where the composer was organist. Its three movements are a curvaceously contoured spiritual Canzona, an Aria that has the airiness and calm demeanour of a church dance and an understated Gloria. While there is some faltering in the complexity of violin counterpoint in the movement’s steady progress and conviction emerges unscathed. There is nothing meretricious in this music which invites you to meet it on its own grave terms without ingratiating gestures. You may possibly remember Chahagir for solo viola from the Ogre/Ogress recording (OG 003) by Christina Fong. Karen Griebling plays with fibrous tone and a steady engagement with the music’s exotic spirituality. There are six movements to the cantata, Angelic Song whose string writing recalls both Sibelius (Valse Triste and Finlandia) and Vaughan Williams (Tallis). Suzanne Banister has a mezzo darkness to her voice and responds well to the long hymnal lines of the music and the decorative filigree. In this work the composer admits a more passionate voice which at times verges on the Tchaikovskian. Superb playing from the orchestra and also from the eloquent Robin Dauer. The words are reproduced in full in the booklet.

Centaur promise us further Hovhaness next year. Watch out for a CD of Floating World, Meditation on Zeami, Ode to the Temple of Sound and Symphony No. 10 Vahaken from The Frost Symphony Orchestra (University of Miami).

For now if you respond to earlyish Hovhaness then this must be for you. Be warned: if you like his more dissonant adventures (Etchmiadzin, Odysseus or even Fra Angelico) then this is not really for you. The composer engaging with the angelic realm.

Rob Barnett


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