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/Keith Brion
rec. Blackheath Concert Halls, Trinity College of Music, London, 30-31 January 2008

Keith Brion is no stranger to the music of Hovhaness; the two first met in 1964. He recorded symphonies 7 and 14 with the New Jersey Wind Ensemble in 1969. This was for the Mace label which issued the recordings on LP Mace 9099. More accessibly he was the conductor of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama Wind Orchestra in three other Hovhaness wind ensemble symphonies on Naxos. Delos recorded Brion in Hovhaness symphonies 29 and 53 with the Ohio State University Band.

The present disc features two compact three movement symphonies inspired by Mountains - one of Hovhaness's idées fixes and a 35 minute symphony inspired by the ruined city of Ani - the capital of medieval Armenia which rejoiced in 1001 cathedrals. The city and its glories were laid waste by invaders.

Nanga Parvat refers to the dangerous and tree-less Kashmiri mountain of that name. The music conveys a sense of inhumanity and of the forbidding enormity of nature. The style is easily recognisable: rolling brass figures amid a firmament mapped out by the Venetian Gabrielis, the dissonance of the 20th century and the exoticism of hypnotic harp, drum, flute and oboe. Ararat was also a commission by the American Wind Symphony of Pittsburgh PA and again is between 14 and 15 minutes duration. Trumpets call out in typically elongated melodic outlines seeming to limn the horizon. Bells, gong and drums provide commentary and underpinning structural substance. The music buzzes and hums. In the central movement bells and groaning deep brass suggest threat. The finale evokes the earthquake and avalanche-riven Mount Ararat through urgent drum cannonades and piercing trumpet blasts.

Ani was first commercially recorded in the 1970s on the miraculously productive spartanly designed LP label Poseidon - a self-publication project by Hovhaness. The LP was Poseidon 1015 with the Highline and Shoreline College Bands conducted by the composer. The master tape for the Ani sessions was lost and when Crystal began to reissue all those Poseidon and Unicorn originals they had to work from a mint LP. You can hear Seth Winner’s heroically good results on Crystal Records CD809.

Ani was a commission from the Smithtown Central High School Symphonic Band and their conductor Lawrence Sobol. It progresses from mysterious sounds to long-limbed slowly unfolding hymns. We move to birdsong evocations that might just have influenced Reich and Nyman to groaning trombones typical of Hovhaness’s most extreme dissonant style as encountered in the Odysseus (25) and Vishnu (19) symphonies (Crystal) to modal nobility. While the other two symphonies are strong on atmosphere but leave the impression of being short on symphonic moment this symphony has an expansive air and a strong but unconventional sense of continuum. After a pattering gamelan-influenced central movement there is a majestically unfurled adagio finale. This is in effect a grand processional and paean all in one. It somehow manages to be reverent as well as imposing. That it is invocatory of the great ancient city seems entirely apposite – clearly a city thronged, savage, civilised, dangerous, threatening, rich and strange. How refreshing that music of this ilk was being written in 1972.

The disc is dedicated to the memory of the distinguished oboist Lady Evelyn Barbirolli (1911-2008).

The concise liner-notes are by the composer as is the included brief poem Lament to Ani.

The Hovhaness non-windband companions from the Naxos stable are:-

Symphony No. 60 and Guitar Concerto on 8.559294
Symphony No. 22 and Cello Concerto 8.559158
Symphony No. 63 and Guitar Concerto No. 2 8.559336.

Hovhaness’s strongly atmospheric muse reflected in three symphonies for wind band. Surrender to the music and you can be transported to realms undreamt or at least dreamt only by Hovhaness.

Rob Barnett