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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
an area that Hovhaness knew well from his childhood.
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.
see also Review
by Rob Barnett July BARGAIN
OF THE MONTH