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Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
Fanfare for the New Atlantis, Op. 281 (1975) [6:57]
Concerto No. 2 for Guitar and Strings,* Op. 394 (1985) [26:05]
Symphony No. 63 Loon Lake, Op. 411 (1988, rev. c. 1991) [26:27]
Javier Calderón (guitar)*
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Stewart Robinson
rec. 12-13 January 2007, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland. DDD
NAXOS 8.559336 [59:29]


Experience Classicsonline

Alan Hovhaness was born in the
USA to Armenian and Scottish parents. All the traditional Western music written earlier in his career Hovhaness destroyed. From the 1940s he felt greatly inspired by the different cultures, legends, philosophies, languages, art and music of the East; with a special affinity for Armenia. A leading pioneer in contemporary music, Hovhaness successfully fused music of the East and West in a way that many listeners have experienced as fascinating, satisfying and accessible. 

His prodigious output of some five hundred or so scores often contains such a distinct individual personality that one can immediately recognise it as being by Hovhaness. His music is not inspired by organised religion in a conventional sense but guided by a profound spirituality, containing a deeply philosophical character, frequently exotic and recurrently served by an intense sense of the beauty of nature. 

Hovhaness had a tendency to give many of his scores descriptive titles, frequently of a colourful and often memorable quality. Several of his scores have received widespread attention, namely: Storm on Mount Wildcat; Symphony No. 50 Mount St Helens; Symphony No.2 Mysterious Mountain; And God Created Great Whales and Symphony No. 22, City of Light. 

The opening work on the disc Fanfare for the New Atlantis, Op. 281 was written in 1975. Evidently, the score is a musical representation of his visualisation of the rebirth of the mythical island of Atlantis that was swallowed up by the ocean following an earthquake. 

I was impressed by the extended trumpet fanfare that opens the score. The glorious trumpet writing reminded me, at times, of the horn melody from the prologue and epilogue movements of Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Op. 31; composed over thirty years earlier. From point 1:32 one hears the chiming from deep under the sea of the ubiquitous bell of legends. The entrance of the strings at point 2:59 is entrancing and is soon joined by the full orchestra. The impressive conclusion of the score has an almost Wagnerian splendour. 

From 1985 the Concerto No. 2 for Guitar and Strings was composed as a result of a commission from the famous Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes. On this premiere recording of the score the soloist is the Bolivian-born Javier Calderón who had commissioned Hovhaness’s first guitar concerto. 

In the opening movement one immediately notices the haunting nocturnal sound world complete with Hovhaness’s characteristic murmuring strings that develops a strong Middle Eastern flavour. The second movement Allegro is marvellously bright and cheerful with a distinct air of the dance. At the start of the slow movement the murmuring strings return with the solo guitar part alternating between blocks of dense string sound. The final movement feels similar in mood and style to the dance-like second movement with a guitar cadenza located towards the conclusion of the score. 

Hovhaness completed his Symphony No. 63 Loon Lake, Op. 411 in 1988. The commissioner of the symphony the New Hampshire Music Festival in conjunction with the Loon Preservation Society specifically requested that the score contain the call of the loon. The loon is an aquatic bird native to the locality of the lakes of New Hampshire, USA; an area that Hovhaness knew well from his childhood. 

The Loon Lake is divided into two sections: a short prelude and a substantial second movement. Dense string textures commence the opening section. Woodwind, solo bells, harp and pizzicato strings take centre stage. In the second section individual wind solos play in turn over pizzicato strings. The full bodied entrance of the orchestra at point 2:17 is impressive and is heard again at regular intervals during the work. The songs of the loon and the hermit thrush are prominent throughout and ringing of bells is never far way. Hovhaness made a revised version of the score for a performance in 1991 with a conclusion that contains a brilliant trumpet part. It is hard to believe that such a fascinating symphony the Loon Lake has never previously been recorded. 

The forces of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Stewart Robinson are on splendid form throughout these fresh and assured performances providing immaculate and characterful support. In the Concerto No. 2 for Guitar and Strings the talented soloist Javier Calderón demonstrates a secure and stylish technique. 

The disc is a fine example of the variety and quality of Hovhaness’s scores. Splendidly performed and recorded with comprehensive annotation. It is hard to fault the essay that accompanies the disc adding to the excellent Naxos presentation.

Michael Cookson

see also Review by Rob Barnett July BARGAIN OF THE MONTH


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