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Penguin Guide, January 2009

A most attractive introduction to a very prolific composer, whose music is both uneven and sometimes inflated. The Guitar Concerto uses the orchestra vividly, but for the most part consists of long, ruminative passages for the soloist, often interrupted by haunting instrumental solos, or indeed by the full orchestra. Khrimian Hairig was originally the slow movement of a trumpet concerto and consists of a melismatic soliloquy from the soloist, which reaches a striking apotheosis. The Symphony, with its magical opening for woodwind which leads to a chorale, is richly melodic, using Appalachian folk idioms. The second movement evokes a square dance. The third is a set of variations on the traditional melody Parting Friends, but all the other themes are both appealing and original. The performances here are of the highest quality and are superbly recorded.



Keaton
American Record Guide, June 2007

At his best, the prolific Alan Hovhaness wrote music that is profoundly beautiful, spiritual, and moving. But he was so prolific that his work is not consistently at that level. Sometimes it wanders pointlessly when he is out of ideas.

Khrimian Hairig is, like the well-known Prayer to St Gregory, a lyric and moving piece for solo trumpet and orchestra, lovingly played by Lars Ranch.

The 60th Symphony, To the Appalachian Mountains was composed in 1985 on a commission by Martin Marietta to celebrate the state of Tennessee. It is in the mood of Mysterious Mountain. Hovhaness was often inspired by nature, particularly mountains. The music soars with grandeur and touching lyricism. The notes are by the composer's widow, who says the premiere was marred by an indifferent and unsympathetic conductor. This is its first commercial recording. Schwarz conducts with his expected excellence, and this is a thoroughly convincing and moving performance.

Guitarists will be excited to hear this first recording of the concerto. The work is an odd mix, I'm afraid. Anyone who writes a guitar concerto has to solve the problem of balance—how does one allow the solo voice to be heard over the potential mass of orchestral sound? Here the guitar mainly plays alone, alternating with the orchestra. The orchestral passages tend to be big, heroic, and intense. The music is gorgeous, but incongruous. We hear this massive wad of sound, heavy on brass and percussion ... and then the guitar. What was he thinking?

Most of the soloist's music in the first movement is noodling, with lots of repeated notes and not much sense of progression. The florid melody in it alternates between English horn and guitar, with a slow pulse in the accompanying chords (how original!), and is rather more interesting, though the melody is too repetitive to be effective. The final movement is the most attractive and the most virtuosic. Soloist David Leisner is a superb musician, with a formidable intellect, taste, and an excellent technique. Perhaps this work will make a better impression over time; it contains some beautiful moments but doesn't work as a whole.



Patrick Waller
MusicWeb International, February 2007

Hovhaness wrote 67 symphonies between 1937 and 1992 although there was an eighteen year gap between the first two. His website has a discography that, if complete, would seem to suggest that - despite multiple recordings of the second and sixth symphonies - rather than less than half of the canon has yet been recorded, and most of the later works remained unrecorded. Indeed, before this record was issued, the latest number listed as being recorded was No. 53. So, at bargain price in the American Classics Series on Naxos, this is a welcome opportunity to hear one of his later symphonies. It is also a very attractive looking programme with the Guitar Concerto and a mini-trumpet concerto providing the couplings in a sensible order.

Khrimian Hairig here fulfils the function of an overture. It is an example of a relatively early work harking back to composer’s Armenian roots. Khrimian Hairig was an Armenian priest and the music was inspired by a portrait of him. Over a slow-burning string accompaniment the solo trumpet soon enters and plays an almost continuous stream of mesmerising melody. Fine control of line from the soloist is needed and provided by Lars Ranch.

The Guitar Concerto is as substantial as most in the genre. It has not been recorded before and is perhaps the most compelling reason to acquire the disc. There are three movements – each of the last two in a faster tempo than its predecessor but this music is never very fast. The Largo opener is an extended rhapsody with colourful but never over-intrusive orchestration. An Andante espressivo which follows has a timeless feel to it but the finale must be a rhythmic nightmare to play given the number of changes of time signature (including 11/8) within a 50-odd bar melodic span. But David Leisner copes admirably and is a most sensitive soloist. Throughout the work there is excellent rapport between soloist and conductor, and the guitar is most naturally balanced by the engineers.

The Symphony No. 60 was commissioned by a commercial organisation to celebrate the cultural heritage of the state of Tennessee. It is in four movements, the first and third of which are in slow tempi. The programmatic elements reflect Appalachian culture as well as the mountains and the third movement is based on the anonymously composed song Parting Friends. The first performance was apparently a major disappointment to the composer and plans to record it were shelved - until now. The music is highly characteristic of the composer and the brief third movement is most memorable.

Conductor Gerard Schwarz is a fine exponent of such music. I presume the record was made in Germany for pragmatic reasons but the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra seem convinced.

There are admirable programme notes by composer’s sixth wife - that’s an average of about 11 symphonies per wife - the time he spent composing may been relevant - and widow, soprano Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness. These reflect not only on the music but also on the man and his philosophy that music is "not for snobs but for all people". But there is no need to say more because they can be read in full here (click on "About this recording").

This disc certainly deserves to be widely heard and the atmospheric Guitar Concerto is a real find.



Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, December 2006

Khrimian Harig is one of a sequence of Hovhaness’s meditative-benedictory works for trumpet and orchestra. Sheeny temperate strings sing in supplication while the trumpet in approximately oriental mode confers a mellifluous cantorial blessing. Lars Ranch supplies the necessary undramatic smoothness of delivery as well as seemingly endless deep draughts of breath. Count this in the same company as Return and Rebuild the Desolate Places and Prayer of Saint Gregory, Avak the Healer, The Holy City, parts of the Majnun Symphony and Concerto No. 10.

The Guitar Concerto is predictably a work of unhurried and gentle plangency with the suggestion of Japanese blossom, delicacy and birdsong. Its pensive sound-world at first reminds us of the cover of the excellent First Edition disc of his work where the composer is depicted cradling a mandolin-like instrument. As the long first movement proceeds the work becomes more vigorously rhythmic. The guitar’s role becomes more animated as if roused from reflection. The second movement sounds somewhat like the early pages of Vaughan Williams Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 or Pastoral Symphony – maybe even slightly Delian. The dervish whirl of the final Allegro Moderato soon gives way to a Tarrega-like liquid trembling for the guitar. Not for the first time the evocation is of dripping water in some idyllic setting. The work ends with a dramatic but not loud flourish.

Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 60 was maltreated to an insensitive premiere. Here, as we are told by Hovhaness’s widow Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness, Schwarz and his Berlin orchestra give a performance suffused with ‘sympathetic understanding’. We hear a four movement work affected by the traditional music of Appalachia. There’s a pacific Adagio doloroso although it is not especially sad as well as a dancing allegro interrupted by a central recessional in a calm summer valley. The melodies are suggestive of folk music of the region and will be familiar to anyone who knows the folk-music influenced works of early 20th century English composers. There’s a conspiratorially tense and cooling Adagio in which oboe and harp converse with eyes down-turned over a muted shuddering bed of sound from the strings. The finale is typically grand with gravely intoning brass and a benison of bells both large and small.

You can hear other Hovhaness works on Naxos: Symphony No. 22, Cello Concerto and music for windband.

There is healing in the wings of this music which is most sweetly articulated in performances that avoid blandness and embrace simple sincerity. We need to hear much more Hovhaness






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11:42:35 AM, 26 May 2015
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