Guitar Cto. No. 2 Symphony No
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Alan Hovhaness was one of the most prolific composers of the twentieth century. He stood alone among composers who were otherwise writing according to the flow of modern thinking, opposed to melody and emotion, and dismissing classical form and contrapunt
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This most recent Naxos CD includes three world-premier recordings of the "Fanfare for the New Atlantis", op.281, the Concerto no. 2 for Guitar and Strings, op. 394, and the late Symphony no. 63, 'Loon Lake" opus 411, written when Hovhaness was 76. The Royal
Scottish National Orchestra is conducted by Stewart Robinson with Javier Calderon as the guitar soloist in the concerto. Hovhaness's widow Himako Fujihara Hovhaness, who is consulting with Naxos on the ongoing series, wrote the liner notes.
Hovhaness' music remains controversial but has been gaining recognition since the composer's death. The music features long, sinuous, slow and majestic orchestral themes, brass chorales, imaginative orchestration, and substantial use of counterpoint. The immediate accessibility of Hovhaness' music should not, I believe, be confused with shallowness. It has a broad visionary dimension, heavily inluenced by eastern thought. Much of Hovhaness' music draws on themes pertaining to nature, and some of it has a distinctively exotic cast. Some listeners find a certain repetitiveness in Hovhaness' music. I would prefer to call it a recognizable style. Still his work is best approached by listening to him at different times, spaced between other music. The Naxos recordings, issued at fairly lengthy intervals, offer an excellent opportunity to visit and revisit Hovhaness. I love his music and find it seldom disappoints.
The Fanfare for the New Atlantis opens with a distant solo trumpet over a long held note in the low strings. The music soon turns into a solemn brass chorale which ultimately works itself into a majestic and triumphal close. This is a short, visionary work which has been too infrequently heard.
An earlier Naxos CD featured Hovhaness first guitar concerto, and this CD features the four movement second concerto with the Bolivian guitarist Javier Calderon. This work too has had limited exposure. It is a chamber concerto with the guitar playing mostly quiet but rhthmically strong passages against a small string ensemble. The outer movements open with slow introductions followed by dancing, idiomatic themes in the guitar. The second movement is more uniformly uptempo. The guitarist plays dance music of shifting, quirky rhythms interspersed with a counterpointed section for the orchestra. The long third movement contrasts slow broad orchestral passages with answering themes in the guitar. It includes a lengthy cadenza for the soloist, improvised here by Calderon. This is a pleasant work in an unsusual genre which I enjoyed more after several hearings.
The symphony no 63 was commissioned by the New Hampshire Music Festival together with the Loon Preservation Society. As he was asked to do, Hovhaness included in this symphony music similar to the call of the loon, but he included on his own a theme based upon the call of the wood thrush, both of which are played by the picolo. This is a peaceful, pastorale symphony.
The opening movement of this two-movement symphony is a brief, slow prelude which opens with an immediately appealing theme in the orchestra followed by a lengthy flowing solo for the English horn accompanied by bells and pizzicato strings. The second movement includes sections of contrasting texture and tempo for the orchestra and various soloists. There are lovely solos for flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, and horn, together with two appearances of the loon cry in the picolo. The orchestral accompaniment and sections tend to be broad and peaceful with lovely passages for the harp and gongs, suggesting the ruffles on a remote New England lake. The work almost literally takes wings at the end wipassage for the orchestra together with the solo trumpet. This is a serene symphony which will reward hearing.
Listeners who love or who want to get to know the music of Alan Hovhaness will enjoy exploring these works, together with its companions in Naxos's American Classics series.
The opening Fanfare for the New Atlantis is a case in point. You probably won't be surprised by the following bald description: it begins with a quiet solo trumpet, then the rest of the brass comes in, then the strings take over, there's a slow build and the brass returns, and there's a big triumphant finish. In other words, it sounds pretty much like you'd expect a Hovhaness piece with this title to sound. The work is utterly obscure - all Hovhaness's widow Hinako Fujihara can say about it in her notes is the date it was completed (1975) and that the composer had an interest in the Atlantis legend. It's a nice piece, though, and deserves further outings.
The second guitar concerto was written in 1985 for Narciso Yepes and is here performed by Javier Calderon, who commissioned the first one. It's an odd beast, in as much as the first, second, and fourth movements are similar in feel and the slow third movement is considerably longer and quite different. Specifically, the shorter movements have very much an Arabic flavour to them and are generally dance-like (though not necessarily lively), whereas the third relies rather too heavily on those big chorale-like string tunes - it sounds a bit too Hovhaness, and I must admit the arrival of the cadenza about 9 minutes in came as something of a relief. This movement seems out of place and rather unbalances the concerto, I think, although the finale restores things somewhat - despite its very odd ending, an insistent trance-y rhythm that suddenly just stops. Take the slow movement out and this is a very enjoyable work. The somewhat Baroque-sounding second movement is a real keeper and could even become a radio favourite.
Hovhaness wrote 67 numbered symphonies; no.63, composed in 1988, was jointly commissioned by the New Hampshire Music Festival and, of all things, the Loon Preservation Society. I don't know if the loon-fanciers felt short-changed: the call of the loon does appear (on piccolo) but Hovhaness is more interested in the hermit thrush, which gets the big tune at the end. Basically the symphony aims to evoke the character of Loon Lake, with plenty of watery ripples and various wind soloists providing long winding melodies. It's a patient, peaceful work and does rather capture the timeless feeling of sitting by a quiet lake, taking everything in - except for (again) those big chorale-like string tunes, which occasionally burst forth, sort of like sitting by a quiet lake and getting interrupted by this fellow Hovhaness who can't help telling you loudly how calm and peaceful it is here. As a result, the symphony feels disjointed - a pity, because so much of it is fine, especially an utterly lovely folk-like tune that makes a too-brief appearance about halfway through the second movement.
Overall, then, something of a mixed bag, but there's really only one big negative - the composer's falling back on the overly familiar - and enough positives to justify a purchase, especially at the Naxos price.
Stewart Robinson and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra are in top form in these recordings. Guitarist Javier Calderon gives a wonderful performance in Guitar Concerto No. 2. The trumpet soloist for Fanfare for the New Atlantis (despite the short length of the composition) is unfortunately not even mentioned in the CD booklet (I would like to have known the person's name). Sound quality from Naxos is remarkably clean and magnificent, so don't be discouraged about the low price.
Grade: 9.1 out of 10
The 2nd Guitar concerto is next and it has 4 movements, lasts 26:05 aNd the soloist is the Bolivian Guitarist Javier Caleron in this 1985 composition. An eerie and beautiful sring melody,. Pricipally in the violins, sets the Mood of the piece, as one of mystery, solitude and contemplation. These are themes that imbue most of Hovhaness' musical products, and his audiences seem to love them. I guess you could say, there are two kinds of people in the world, those who know and love his music, and those poor souls who neither know his works, except for Myst. Mtn., but are largely ignaorrant of his many treasures. I used to be in the second group but, now I am learnignas much as I can get my mitts on. Unfortuneatley, Hovhaness is woefully under. Repesented on CD. WE NEED MORE!!
THE GUITAR CONCERTO OPENS WITH A QUIET ANDANTE INTRODUCTION OF _______WITH THE SOLOIST HAVING "SNUCK IN" TO JOIN THE SCOTTS AND ROBERTSON SO DELICATELY, ONE BARELY NOTICES HIS APPEARANCE. The evocative main melody is ever so tender and the attention to detail by Robertson, is really fine. Calderon plays with a great deal of beauty and finess, we are in his hands, gently. About this time, I can once again state that this music needs to be heard out of doors, not in a concet hall, but amidst nature. The second part of the 1st movement, is an allegrovivace and , like a SURGEON, CALDERON DANCES AND cavorts with light and very well defined notes, no strumming or other Spanish influences. The 2nd movemnt is an allegro giusto of 4:35 with the soloist and orchestra plucking their way through a light and pleasent dance melody. The, at 1:50. the orcchestra takes over for a bit, with full strings, in what soundslike a Scottish "cap", a dance of a rondo style. The soloist and ensemble rejoin eazch other again at 02:17 and restate the principal themewith a bit more flourishes from our guitarist and togather they dance their way to the conclusion. The heart of the concerto is the long Andante, subtitled mysterioso con nobilita and then andante maestoso. This sectionruns 10:55 and I am grateful for it's length and exquisite presentation. To say it is both nobile and majestic is an understatement in the highest degree exquisite 1985 concerto ends with and "Adagio, allegro giusto" of a mere 4:26. I really think I WOULD DRIVE TO SEATTLE, 7 HOURS FROM OWR NE WASHINGTON HOME TO HEAR THEM PLAY THIS FINE MUSIC, UNDER GERARD SCHRARZ, OF COURSE. This iseasily a 4+star performance of 4.5 star music.
This Naxos CD concludes with the Symphony #63, "Loon Lake," written in 1988 it runs 26:27 and has two movements. The symphony opens with a full string statement, marked "Largo solonne, I presume solemn then into an andante pastorale. It is only 4:16 long but is very effective at mood paintinmg.ere is an English Horn toassist in the color of the music, and a celeste and some tinkling bells lend that Eastern tone to the music. The 2nd movemnt is marked "Andante misteriosos, maestosdo, presto, allegrogiusto, allegro moderato and finally, andante maestoso as a conclusion. It lasts for 22:31 and draws this lovely work to an end. All three of these selections are, by the way, world premiere recordings, something one doesn't see often. Too bad rthere is solittle Hovhaness out there, as I will look again after this review is done. He deserves more exposure and not merely because he is "new," but because he is also interesting, pleasing to the ears and worthy of the musical world of today. He is a nostalgic traveler with whom one feels at home and at peace with. Hovhaness' expploration of diverse instruments and sounds is a source of endless curiosity for all of us, and if you have a good orchestra in you town or city, drop the management a line and ask for more hovhaness. They just might do some, what have you got to lose? A solid and highly impressed 4.5 Stars for this Naxos entry. This CD was recorded in the wrm acoustics of Henry WOOD HALL IN GLASGOW, UK ON JANUARY 12,13/2007. SIT BACK AND ENJOY AND GOD BLESS ALL----TONY.