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Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
The Historic Moscow Recordings of the Cristofori Foundation
Spoken Introduction to concert in Russian [2:33]
The Prayer of St Gregory (1946) [5:33]
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra (1954) [20.51]*
Three Pieces for two pianos+: Mihr (1945) [9.25]; Ko-ola-u (1962) [2.19]; Vijag (1946) [3.44]
Lousadzak - concerto for piano and orchestra (1944) [18.56]++
Andrei Ikov (trumpet); Martin Berkofsky (piano, on all pieces) with Atakan Sari (piano 2)* Sergei Podobedov (piano 2)+ Nikolai Zherenkov (violin)++
Globalis Symphony Orchestra/Konstantin Krimets
rec. live, Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, March 2003 (Concerto for two pianos - world première), House of Sound, Moscow, March and June 2004 (remainder)
CRISTOFORI CF-889 [63:27]

This disc emanates from an inspired, inveterate and dedicated Hovhaness source. Peter Christ’s Crystal Records remains the home of the composer’s own key-note recordings from the Poseidon LP label of the 1970s. This Cristofori product has been accommodated within the Crystal stable. It reintroduces familiar Hovhaness recordings. I say ‘familiar’ although the original Black Box issue from 2005 - minus some of the tracks here - never seemed to gain much prominence. The Black Box was reviewed here by Jonathan Woolf in 2005.
 
An assertively muscular and forward-surging Prayer of St Gregory features an urgent solo from Andrei Ikov. This is reverential music which in this performance remains in touch with a fast pulse - no suggestion of static noodling here. The 1954 Concerto for two pianos is a fascinating three-movement piece. The long, sinuous woodwind and violin lines course passionately forward in an Andante and are punctuated by harshly stony dissonance from the pianos. Thrumming strings exacerbate the apocalyptic tension with the two pianos carrying forward their hieratically dark role from the first movement. Brass and tam-tam pile the atmosphere higher. Anxiety mediates with consolation in the final Moderato but soon reverts to dissonantly swirling angst. This is a work closer in spirit to the dark intimations and clashing rites of the Odysseus and Vishnu symphonies rather than to Hovhaness’s softer-contoured works such as St Vartan and Mysterious Mountain. Martin Berkofsky is no Hovhaness tyro. He recorded Khaldis,the concerto for piano, four trumpets and percussion (1951), the Mount Katahdin piano sonata (1987) and the piano solo Fantasy (1944) in the 1970s and these are on Poseidon CD814.
 
Then come the Three Pieces for two pianos where Berkofsky is joined in the first by Atakan Sari and in the other two by Sergei Podobedov. Mihr(1945) comes as balm after the complexities and tensions of the Concerto. The language reminded me of the folk-like exotic piano pieces of Komitas Vartabed as recently recorded for Kalan by Sahan Artzruni. The very brief Ko-ola-u(1962) chimes with hypnotic sweetness and the bass line anchors and earths the music. There’s something quite Baxian about this writing with its setting of extreme treble against extreme bass. Vijag (1946) rushes forward with a quick repetitive carillon. One can see how Steve Reich might well have been influenced by these three pieces. Lousadzak carries the suggestion of the sitar and the sway of North African music to which the piano lends dynamism and momentum. It’s a meaty single movement work without the out-and-out vanguard clashes of the Concerto for two pianos and orchestra. The rippling piano solo often recalls the most Mephisto outbursts of Liszt in Totentanz. About halfway through Berkofsky is joined by a violin solo, here taken by Nikolai Zherenkov - an imploring submissive line to the piano’s cantorial confidence and self-absorption. Lousadzak knows the mysteries but here, by contrast with the Two-Piano Concerto, the arcane spirits are benign and dignified and expound celestial delights.
 
The liner booklet runs to an unstinting 32 pages, overwhelmingly in English. It is decked out with pictures and reproductions of concert bills; all in all a major contribution to the Hovhaness literature, audio and written. It also serves to contrast the lyrical and dissonant sides of Hovhaness.
 
Rob Barnett 

Review index: Alan Hovhaness





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