Another fascinating Hovhaness disc from Naxos. The Cello Concerto is a full bloodedly romantic work and Janos Starker pulls out all the stops a la Dvorak. (I haven't listened to Symphony no. 22 yet - & look forward to that).
A very fine cello concerto and a splendid symphony. I love the sound picture created in this symphony. The Seattle orchestra and the recording are well suited to this work. Plenty more of his works to explore!
Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000)was a prolific and gifted American composer who enjoyed a degree of popular success during his lifetime but did not achieve the critical recognition he deserved. His work is melodic, accessible and heavily influenced by eastern music, mysticism, and nature.
The budget priced Naxos label has now released five CD's of Hovahaness as part of its "American Classics" series, designed to introduce the listener to the range of American achievement in the composition of classical music. This disk, released in 2003, was the first. It includes Hovhaness' early Concerto for Cello Opus 17 (1936) and his 1971 Symphony, "City of Light". Hovhaness merits inclusion in a series of American Classics,and this CD is a good introduction.
The Cello concerto of 1937 is an early work. The recording here dates from 1999 and features the renowned cellist Janos Starker playing with the Seattle Symphony. The concerto shows Hovhaness, I think, under the deep influence of Jean Sibelius, whom he visited as a young man. The concerto is in three movements with the outer two slow and lengthy movements surrounding a brief allegro movement. There is substantial interplay in the outer movement of this work between the cello and the solo flute together with long orchestral interludes. There are long, melodic lines and moments of lyricism particularly in the third movement. The liner notes repeat a legend that has grown with the telling that Hovhaness destroyed "close to 1000" works in 1940 but spared this concerto. Hovhaness did have a commendable capacity for self-criticism, but my understanding is that this story and the number of works at issue has grown with the years. Be that as it may, this cello concerto is an appealing work.
The second work on the CD, the 1971 "Symphony of Light", Opus 236 is music on a high level. Hovhaness wrote this symphony under a commission from the Birmingham Symphony Orcestra (Alabama). The recording here dates from 1992 and features Hovhaness himself conducting the Seattle Orchestra.
This is a four-movement symphony of about 30 minutes featuring extended slow opening and concluding movements surrounding two exquisite, very short movements. The work well deserves its name "City of Light". It is in an eloquent, elevated, mystical tone throughout. It features long intertwining string themes played by the strings with comments from the winds, and percussion. It has a highly eastern flavor. The climax of this symphony is in its final movement which closes with an extended fugue on a lengthy melody played in the lower strings.
As I listended to the Symphony, I remembered the Birmingham, Alabama of 1963, in which police dogs and fire hoses were unleashed on Martin Luther King and his followers in the cause of Civil Rights. This symphony, written only eight years after these events, speaks to me of a city of promise and love, dedicated to high ideals and open to all. The music is both elevated and accessible and paints a tonal picture of aspiration for Birmingham specifically, perhaps, but for all our cities as well. This is music of a uniquely mystical and American stamp.
I enjoyed the opportunity to explore the music of Alan Hovhaness in this fine CD and in the subsequent releases of Hovhaness' music on Naxos.
Alan Hovhaness's music defies description, until you listen carefully. Thoroughly twentieth century, but hardly modern, the idiom is reminiscent of the folk song composers of the earler part of the century. The music is almost defaintly modal, but there are non-Euroepan influences mixed into the cocktail. The 22nd Symphony and Cello Concerto coupled on this disc offer a good introduction to the composer's highly individual yet sometimes less than memorable voice. The performaces are good, without being brilliant. But it's still superb value for money.