Alan HOVHANESS (1911–2000)
Symphony No. 7 Nanga Parvat op. 178 (1959) [14:10]
Symphony No. 14 Ararat op. 194 (1960) [14:22]
Symphony No. 23 Ani op. 178 (1972) [34:11]
Trinity College of Music Wind Orchestra/Keith Brion
rec. Blackheath Concert Halls, Trinity College of Music, London, 30-31 January 2008

An hour’s worth of Hovhaness in ‘wind band plus percussion symphonic garb’ is the raison d’être of this Naxos release. It bears all his most obvious hallmarks, sometimes starkly: vistas, intense tattoos, hieratic brass, convulsive dialogues, chimes, noble perorations, edifices of almost Mayan splendour.

The Seventh Symphony dates from 1959. The purity of its rhythmic percussion tattoos and the hieratic nature of its brass calls give one an idea of the processional intensity of its dramaturgy. The loquacity of his wind writing implies a raft of interior monologues. The writing becomes more concentrated in the central movement where Hovhaness ensures themes are less fragmentary and by the finale things have turned positively Olympian. The percussion is now subservient to the to the brass calls, themselves more legato and ushering in a sunset glow, and a cooling, reflective consonance.

The following year he wrote Ararat, Symphony No.14. It makes much of ‘dragon fly’ sonorities, bright trumpets and glittering percussion once again but adds a further percussive layer via bell chimes and a buzzy series of terraced sonorities – dramatic, florid, and ground shaking in the central movement. The percussion starts up immediately in the finale but is gradually worn down by the sheer pugilistic insistence of the conquering brass.

The final symphony of the three is written on a much broader canvas than these two quarter of an hour works. But it too is a powerful construction, its chattering winds and terse declamation capturing the ear with great trenchancy. Drunken lowering lower brass add a leering patina as well, as do the aero engine and gamelan evocations. The finale is a wonderful example of nobility and processional tread with repeated figures passed from brass to wind adding a layer of sonic depth. We feel as if some vast castle is being evoked, as the brass calls resound from battlement to crenellation; Gormenghast in music.

Keith Brion has a long track-record with Hovhaness and he directs his forces with great vitality and precision. This splendid disc has been excellently engineered and admirers of the composer need not hesitate.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett