Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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ALAN HOVHANESS (1911-) Lady of Light (1968) [43:15] * Avak The Healer (1946) [21:05] **   * Patricia Clark (soprano) * Leslie Fyson (baritone) * Ambrosian Singers * Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Alan Hovhaness ** Marni Nixon (soprano) ** Thomas Stevens (trumpet) Crystal Chamber Orchestra/Ernest Gold Recorded London 1971 (Lady of Light); Los Angeles 1975 (Avak) CRYSTAL RECORDS CD806 [64:24]




Listening to this disc I wonder how much Tavener and his new mystico-religious melodics owe to the Armenian master. Hovhaness seems never to have been a mainstream composer; not even during the late 1960s and early 1970s when a drug-fuelled and spurred psychedelic mysticism became woven into popular culture: San Francisco, The Beatles, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. From an earlier era we also recall Cyril Scott and his mystical essays, Sorabji and even Britten's Prince of the Pagodas and Gamelan Anklung.

The muscular large-scale cantata, Lady of Light has a winning strangeness that is bound to make it new friends if only people will give it one hearing. The music is like all Hovhaness singable and Eastern all at the same time. This is not Russian orientalism, nor French nor anyone else's but seems to tap into a sense of authentic otherness on which few can draw.

Along the way, throughout this piece, the music seems to be floating upwards amid bells and sinuous woodwind figures. Pat Clark is in full splendour: articulating the softest erotic undulations. The section describing dancing to the sun is a brother to Holst's Hymn of Jesus. Listen to the chaos of swaying voices at 39.50. Winding and striding strings provide a backdrop to mournful bells. Listen also to the quiet cataract of violins at 30.10. Great pizzicati from deep in the orchestra suggests the possessed legs and feet of the doomed dancer who possesses all who see her and intoxicates them too. She is like some Pied Piper dancer in the light - a young maiden who lead them into an ecstasy of dance like some drugged vision where the infatuates can fly through the power of dance. Finally the woman dancer is killed and the warpriest and his army are destroyed. Leslie Fyson is pretty clear and preferable to the rather mournful Martyn Hill in Majnun.

Avak has Hovhaness's hieratically singing trumpet floating over a bed of Vaughan Williams-style (Tallis) strings with cross-currents evocative of Rózsa's summer nights in Hungary. As for the purity of Marni Nixon's voice swaying and dancing in the heat haze it deserves far more celebrity than it has ever been accorded. This is a disc for voice aficionados as well as those keen to hear Hovhaness tackling the human voice.

There is a good colour picture of the composer on back of the insert booklet which also includes all the words as well as typically helpful levels of detail.

Another triumph in the Crystal Hovhaness series.


Rob Barnett

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