The rate at which the vast expanse of Hovhaness's music has found its way onto disc is painfully sluggish although the tempo has certainly picked up over the last few decades. The present disc slipped by and I am pleased now to have caught up with this mountain-themed collection.
Vision from High Rock
refers to High Rock near Lynn in Massachusetts. It's a work that Hovhaness fanatics may have heard in an off-air recording of the Stokowski-conducted premiere in Detroit on 17 February 1955. It is one of the composer's finest works in his aureate-serene vein with hymnal strings, hieratic brass, woodwind flurries or slow caprices and an argent jangle of priestly bells fading into misty eternity. It's a sensationally affecting piece.
We know the Silver Pilgrimage
from a First Edition Louisville
recording. This one from Koch is richer and more atmospheric. The work is in four movements: Mount Ravana
, Marava Princess
, River of Meditation
and Heroic Gates of Peace
. It was commissioned by the Watumill Foundation and was written while Hovhaness was travelling on a studying fellowship in Korea and Japan. Mount Ravana
is a disturbing piece in which the tam-tam, drums and chilly rain-pattering pizzicato slowly racks up the tension. Marava Princess
uses a curvaceous Sibelian melody which seems constantly to rotate like a mobius strip in motion. At 11:02 River of Meditation
returns to the awed threat borne high by Mount Ravana
here voiced by drums, bells, tam-tam, groaning deep strings and tentative wailing woodwind. Heroic Gates of Peace
is a priestly march with rolling brass chorales ringing in leisurely pacing around the firmament. The music sounds at times like a grand extrapolation from the Two Veterans
movement from Dona Nobis Pacem
by Vaughan Williams.
Mountain of Prophecy
mixes dissonance, icily awed Sibelian abstractions from the Fourth Symphony with eerie high-cruising violins, shivering strings in Tapiola
mode and the immanence of mysteries hidden from western knowledge.
is the meditative middle movement of his Symphony No. 1 Mountain
. It's a work of the finest textures: very lucid, tonal, trembling with bells and the boundless sense of high places. Young studied at the University of Washington with George McKay. He is a prolific composer and an avid mountain climber. I would like to hear more by this composer including the whole of the First Symphony.
's Mount Takhoma
is related in its placid smiling confidence and slow blossoming majesty to Copland's Appalachian Spring
. It is a most beautiful and succinct piece with just a touch of the Hovhaness magic. It also possesses an uncomplicated sweetness of utterance which is amplified by the resonance in benediction of the vibraphone. Towards the end there are intimations of terror completely in keeping with the wildness of the mountain. The Takhoma in question is the 14,411 feet peak which can be seen from Seattle. The city of Tacoma to the west of this, the highest of Washington state's six peaks, bears the mountain's name.
The recording quality is very satisfying and the liner-notes set the scene very nicely indeed.