Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

ALAN HOVHANESS (1911-) Magnificat (1958) 29:22 * Saturn (1971) 24:27 ** *   Audrey Nossaman (sop); Elizabeth Johnson (con); Thomas East (ten); Richard Dales (bar); University of Louisville Choir, Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney. ** Kate Hurney (sop); Lawrence Sobol (cl); Martin Berkovsky (piano). CRYSTAL RECORDS CD808 53:57




Hovhaness's spiritual teacher was the painter Hermon diGiovanno. DiGiovanno lead him to explore the cultures of Armenia, Greece, Egypt and India. This coincided with his decision to incinerate his many works in 1943 and to establish an amateur string orchestra in New York to play his and others' music. This included the oriental aleatory or Spirit Murmur. Its slipping and sliding violins were widely imitated in the early 1960s.

This disc presents one major (though comparatively short) choral/orchestral work and one chamber work. Both have the voice as their still calm centre.

The Magnificat was premiered at Wichita Falls, Texas on 26 January 1959. Its inaugural celestial fanfare is one of Hovhaness's kindest themes intoned delicately by trombone, trumpet and horn. Beauty too kindles all of the choral singing which may well have inspired Rutter. Hovhaness may have taken inspiration from Howells, Fauré, Hadley and Finzi though the final result is different from each. The baritone is rather under-powered but the other singers rise reasonably (and better) to the challenge. The recording quality on the Misericordia track (7) causes a transient blast of distortion on the sustained high notes of the soprano but nothing serious. This work is not strongly oriental and as the notes suggest convey some of what we may take as the blessed spirit of the early Christian church. All is gentle until the rustling hornet flight of the strings at Esurientes Implevit Bonis (9) and strangeness descends again in the cackling whispers of Sicut Locutus est (11). The final Gloria Patri runs forward with a Christmassy trumpet solo of sweet repose after which the choir follow in similarly exalted style.

Saturn is in 12 miniature movements. It is a study (or I take it to be) in the loneliness of space and its far remote dark worlds. Saturn Celestial Globe (16) introduces some humanity (or is it intended as a reference to human life or some Apollonian alien culture?) in a dance for clarinet entwining around the soprano voice while the piano keeps up a constant filigree. This moods continues into O Lost Note. I can imagine this music also being sung by Hinako Fujihara. The sounds of perpetual cataracts are evoked in Giant Globe and On Wings of a Soundless Note.

As in all of this series the full texts are given together with positively helpful notes giving full background on the composer and the works.

The Magnificat was licensed from Louisville so I wonder if there is any chance they can pick up a licence for symphony No. 15 Silver Pilgrimage on Louisville LP LS662 and couple it with the Poseidon recording of the Ani symphony. I understand that this is unlikely as there has been talk about the Louyisville series re-systematically emerging on CD reissues.

As with many (all?) of these discs the original tapes are analogue. There is supposed to be some hiss. The technicians at Crystal sagaciously resisted the temptation to remove it knowing full well that this usually robs the bloom of the original. Hiss is best filtered by the mind of the listener rather than the subtle hand of the audio techie.

Another strong disc in the series.


Rob Barnett

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Rob Barnett

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