13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) wrote a lot of music; most of it totally unknown. Classifying the music of this eccentric composer is no mean task. Hovhaness' draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including baroque music, as well as the ancient music of Armenia, India, Japan and elsewhere. Further, Hovhaness composes music in a style that is at home with many twentieth century modernist trends (minimalism, aleatoric music), but at the same time looks back to ancient chants or folk music from across the world. That said, Hovhaness' music is immediately accessible and has a uniform style that allows the listener to readily identify the music's composer.
The present release contains three concertante works:
Shambala - concerto for sitar, violin and orchestra
Janabar - five hymns for piano, violin, trumpet and string orchestra
Talin - concerto for viola and string orchestra
Also included on this release is a half hour of Hovhaness talking about his music. These conversations were interesting, but they were a bit random. It seems that these conversations were cobbled together from multiple interviews conducted at various points over the composer's life.
At 45 minutes, Shambala (1969) is the most substantial piece on the program. Hovhaness spent time in India studying its music and meeting with various Indian musicians. And it is from India where Hovhaness draws his inspiration in composing this concerto. There is a duality within this concerto: the writing for the violin and orchestra is primarily structured and is played in defined time, while the sitar part is often improvisatory, with much of the part left to the discretion of the performer. This piece will likely sound quite exotic to any Western ears. The exoticism is primarily added through the violin and sitar writing. Although the concerto takes the form of one long continuous movement, the work can be divided into several sub-movements, with the recurring appearance of a mysteriously ominous processional serving as a boundary, of sorts, around several extended solo passages. This processional and the presence of aleatoric pitched percussion / pizzicato passages (that is, several parts are played together in free time) is not completely different from that of Hovhaness' nineteenth symphony (the 'Vishnu' symphony). However, this mysitcal piece is unique among Hovhaness' compositions and is definitely worth checking out.
Talin (1951) is a brief concerto for viola and string orchestra. The first and third movements are solemn in nature, while the second movement takes the form of a dance containing themes from Persia. The colorful harmonies of this 'estampie' entice the listener; however, it is the noble chorales of this concerto that are truly memorable.
Composed in 1950, the five hymns of Janabar ('Journey') are real gems. As with Shambala, I hear duality within each movement. The hymns contain passages where only the solo piano or violin is heard, which are contrasted against passages scored for string orchestra and trumpet. Hovhaness, in describing his music, indicated that he used the trumpet as the 'voice of God'. And indeed, the trumpet part is truly majestic. There is a lot to like here. From the sparklingly serene piano opening of the 'Sharagan' movement, to the modal colorings of the 'Toccata' - all of this is beautiful.
My rating for this release is based solely on my opinion this music and the performance of it. The rating I gave does not include consideration of my frustration with the format of this recording. With this release, the purchaser receives one disc: one side of this disc is in DVD audio format, while the other side is in CD audio format. The CD audio side only contains Shambala and one movement each of Janabar and Talin (maybe you can consider this the 'best of' the DVD audio side). The CD audio side also contains a PDF file which details additional information about each of the three works (not included in the accompanying booklet). I find the DVD audio format to be a bit maddening as it must be played on a DVD payer, and it is terribly difficult to convert the tracks to MP3 files (I like to listen to music through my Ipod). I suspect this complicated format contributed to the high price of this release (too high in my opinion). I am sorry to get into all of these technicalities, but this was an important factor for me.
In conclusion, admirers of Hovhaness will want to acquire this. The three disparate pieces here are each beautiful in their own way and only further my belief that there is much more to Hovhaness than what the mainstream music listening public currently believes. Those that enjoy Hovhaness often refer to the spiritual, calming, healing or uplifting qualities of his music. I, too, would apply those adjectives to the three compositions here. Such terms are not typically applied to classical music, but then again, there is nobody quite like Hovhaness.
DVD audio: 126 minutes
CD: 59 minutes
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The music of the American composer Alan Hovhaness (1911 -- 2000) has been gaining in stature subsequent to the composer's death. The composer wrote prolifically with more that 500 works and 67 symphonies to his name and this has worked to his detriment. Much of his music is beautiful well worth getting to know. Hovhaness' music has a distinctly mystical character and celebrates both nature and place. The music is heavily influenced by Hovhaness' Armenian ancestry and by his longstanding interest in the music and culture of India and the East. His music is readily accessible even with its exotic character.
Released in 2008, this combination DVD/CD includes world premiers of two works "Janabar" and "Shambala" together with "Talin" which had been recorded earlier but with a clarinet rather than a viola as the solo instrument. The recording also includes nearly one-half hour of excerpts from interviews in which the composer discusses his views on religion, music, literature, his early life, and more. The interview will be of interest to those who want to learn more about the composer. The recordings feature the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rastislav Stur, with soloists Christina Fong, violin/viola, Paul Harvey, piano, Michael Bowman, trumpet and Gaurav Mazumdar, sitar.
The opening work, "Janabar" or "Journey, op. 81 dates from 1950 and is subtitled "Five Hymns of Serenity for Trumpet, Violin, Piano and String Orchestra." This five movement work of about 35 minutes includes solos for piano, violin, and trumpet and describes an interior or spiritual journey rather than a travelogue. With the exception of a lively third movement, "Toccatta" the work is slow, and meditative. The opening and longest movement of the piece is a "Fantasy" which begins with an extended introspective piano solo. The three odd-numbered movements include calls for trumpet. The second and fourth movements, "Song" and "Hymn" include lyrical, sinuous solos for the violin. In each movement, the writing for string orchestra weaves together the solo parts. This is a lovely, meditative work.
"Talin" op 93 was composed in 1951 for the still relatively rare combination of viola and orchestra. Hovhaness was inspired by his vision of ancient Armenian life, as "Talin" refers to a cathedral destroyed many centuries ago. The outer movements are slow, lyrical, and have a strongly spiritual feel while the brief middle movement, "Estampe" is lively dance. The viola writing is lush, melancholy, and lyrical, The orchestral part is alternatively chordal and aleatoric, with repeated frequently plucked passages repeated in hushed tones at varying tempi. This short three-movement concerto is the highlight of this recording..
Hovhaness had a long interest in Indian music and pioneered in writing works with Indian and Western elements. His efforts in this direction were taken up by jazz and by popular music. His long single movement concerto, "Shambala", op 228 was written in 1969 for Yehudi Menuin and Ravi Shankar, neither of whom performed it. At 45 minutes, thie piece is long, difficult and improvisatory. "Shambala" receives its first performance in this recording. The single movement work changes moods and tempos frequently. The violin part tends to be Western in character with slow, singing melodies, with the sitar has an angular, rhythmic sound. The orchestral part makes broad use of winds, percussion, and gongs. The sitar part is largely to be improvised by the soloist. It is fascinating to have a recording of this work but also easy to understand why it is not often performed due to its length and difficulty. In this recording, the three primary parts, for orchestra, violin, and sitar, were separately recorded and later combined in the recording studio to make the unified work.
The recording consists of a single disk in DVD format on one side and CD format on the other side. The DVD includes the three works and the Hovhaness' interview in their entirety while the CD side includes liner notes, "Shambala" and excerpts from the two remaining pieces.
The recording is the product of a small, independent firm, Ogre/Ogress which has released several CDs of works by Hovhaness and other under-appreciated contemporary American composers. I have listened to a great deal of Hovhaness over the years and was grateful for the opportunity to hear the rare works included on this recording. Ogre/Ogress kindly sent me a copy of the recording for review.