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David Hurwitz, February 2012

No qualms about the performances: Javier Calderón is a fine guitarist and he plays this very attractive four-movement work for solo plus strings extremely well. Similarly, conductor Stewart Robertson gets excellent results from his always proficient Scottish orchestra. © 2012 Read complete review

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, December 2010

Alan Hovhaness has been accused of many things; overly prolific so that much of his music is substandard (like Telemann, supposedly), repetitive to the point of recomposing himself over and over (like Vivaldi, supposedly), and sticking with one essential style that is so unvarying it becomes monotonous. I think that if one is honest there is a little truth to all three of these assertions. Personally I have found much to admire in his writing, even though I think his contrapuntal skill overrated, and even though there are moments of great beauty and even thrilling sound, rarely am I moved by this composer. It could be that his chosen stylistic oeuvre lends itself to a certain detachment and objectivity that avoids any sort of deep emotional experience with his music, but I think he would have disagreed with this, as his own full-steam-ahead-and damn-what-the-other-composers-are-doing philosophy evolved in part because he felt that emotional and communicability were missing in large part from the music of the last century.

But it also cannot be denied that he has a vast following of cult-like intensity, and his records keep selling, and great artists kept interacting with him all his life, so there must be something to it that a philistine like me just doesn’t get! I find nothing on this album to change my mind, which means that if you like Hovhaness you will like this, and if you don’t there is nothing here that is so radically different you will wager a reassessment.

Generally I like this album.

Fanfare for the New Atlantis is essentially a small tone poem that describes the emergence of the mythical city from the waters. I think that Debussy did a little more vibrant job with his Engulfed Cathedral but our composer has his own methods and a modal style that make for a piece of limited interest, though not completely devoid of such. When we get to the Second Guitar Concerto we find a work written for the great guitarist Narciso Yepes in 1990. This is more typical of the composer, with a great intimacy between guitar and orchestra, rarely competing and fashioned in a concertante sort of idiom. The second movement is particularly lovely in that vast kind of Hovhanessian spatial dimension, with long winded string lines set against a sparse contrapuntal bass, injected with guitar commentary as the orchestra goes silent.

For many the main interest of this disc will be one of the last symphonies from the composer’s desk, “Loon Lake”, written as a commission from the New Hampshire Music Festival in conjunction with the Loon Preservation Society (evidently loons are found all over the state in its lakes). This two-movement work is intended as a walk down the composer’s memory lane while reflecting on his nostalgia for the New Hampshire countryside. The first movement serves as a prelude to the rest of the symphony, which is, as reminiscences suggest, quite sparsely scored with a lot of meditative moments for solo instruments like the flute. Those typical vast moving block chords (a la Mysterious Mountain) find a way into the score and again seem to reflect the composer’s obsessive magnification of the soul stretching towards something higher, though what that happens to be is kept secret from us.

The performances are exemplary and the sound quite vivid and pleasing. The RSO plays very well indeed, and I can’t imagine better performances. If this rocks your boat, no need to stop now—grab it!

American Record Guide, November 2008

I like Hovhaness’s music very much, but he can be rather formulaic; that’s a danger any really prolific composer faces. His music often seems to be rewriting Mysterious Mountainagain and again. Majestic blocks of chords, modal progressions, meandering melodies for solo instruments, odd chromaticisms suggesting something oriental—typical Hovhaness, and it’s all here.

All three works were composed in the last quarter of the last century, and each recording is the first. The strongest work is the brief Fanfare for the New Atlantis, with a trumpet solo in the mood of the Prayer of St Gregory. The symphony, composed in 1988, opens with a short prelude followed by a 23-minute movement where those wind solos alternate with block chords in modal progressions. Again, if you like Hovhaness, you’ll enjoy this, though you may think you’ve heard it before. It was commissioned by the New Hampshire Loon Preservation Society, who “specifically requested the sound of the loon cry to be in the symphony”. They may have requested it, but this performance, at least, doesn’t supply it.

Having played and taught his sonata, and having reviewed two guitar concertos, I am left with the sense that Hovhaness just didn’t really get the guitar. His music is either formulaic to the point of simplicity or sounds like it was conceived for another instrument and transcribed. At least in the second concerto, he has grasped the orchestration problem. The first alternated wispy guitar passages with massive orchestral sonorities, sometimes blending the two with disastrous results. Here the guitar is given clear and transparent support, and the big sonorities are separate passages. The 7/4 finale is the weakest movement, with predictable note groupings and a conclusion that just seems to stop. There’s no real climax, just an ending. Ives sometimes did that, but with his music, it works.

The performers play convincingly, and there are many delights, if few surprises, for fans of this composer.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, October 2008

The opening work on the disc Fanfare for the New Atlantis, Op. 281 was written in 1975. Evidently, the score is a musical representation of his visualisation of the rebirth of the mythical island of Atlantis that was swallowed up by the ocean following an earthquake.

I was impressed by the extended trumpet fanfare that opens the score. The glorious trumpet writing reminded me, at times, of the horn melody from the prologue and epilogue movements of Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Op. 31; composed over thirty years earlier. From point 1:32 one hears the chiming from deep under the sea of the ubiquitous bell of legends. The entrance of the strings at point 2:59 is entrancing and is soon joined by the full orchestra. The impressive conclusion of the score has an almost Wagnerian splendour.

From 1985 the Concerto No. 2 for Guitar and Strings was composed as a result of a commission from the famous Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes. On this premiere recording of the score the soloist is the Bolivian-born Javier Calderón who had commissioned Hovhaness’s first guitar concerto.

In the opening movement one immediately notices the haunting nocturnal sound world complete with Hovhaness’s characteristic murmuring strings that develops a strong Middle Eastern flavour. The second movement Allegro is marvellously bright and cheerful with a distinct air of the dance. At the start of the slow movement the murmuring strings return with the solo guitar part alternating between blocks of dense string sound. The final movement feels similar in mood and style to the dance-like second movement with a guitar cadenza located towards the conclusion of the score.

Hovhaness completed his Symphony No. 63 Loon Lake, Op. 411 in 1988. The commissioner of the symphony the New Hampshire Music Festival in conjunction with the Loon Preservation Society specifically requested that the score contain the call of the loon. The loon is an aquatic bird native to the locality of the lakes of New Hampshire, USA; an area that Hovhaness knew well from his childhood.

The Loon Lake is divided into two sections: a short prelude and a substantial second movement. Dense string textures commence the opening section. Woodwind, solo bells, harp and pizzicato strings take centre stage. In the second section individual wind solos play in turn over pizzicato strings. The full bodied entrance of the orchestra at point 2:17 is impressive and is heard again at regular intervals during the work. The songs of the loon and the hermit thrush are prominent throughout and ringing of bells is never far way. Hovhaness made a revised version of the score for a performance in 1991 with a conclusion that contains a brilliant trumpet part. It is hard to believe that such a fascinating symphony the Loon Lake has never previously been recorded.

The forces of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Stewart Robinson are on splendid form throughout these fresh and assured performances providing immaculate and characterful support. In the Concerto No. 2 for Guitar and Strings the talented soloist Javier Calderón demonstrates a secure and stylish technique.

The disc is a fine example of the variety and quality of Hovhaness’s scores. Splendidly performed and recorded with comprehensive annotation. It is hard to fault the essay that accompanies the disc adding to the excellent Naxos presentation.

William Yeoman
Gramophone, September 2008

A hearty helping of Hovhaness includes another splendid guitar concerto

Following guitarist David Leisner’s superb account of Alan Hovhaness’s First Guitar Concerto, also for Naxos, comes an equally fine recording of the composer’s Concerto No 2 for guitar and strings, this time by the dedicatee of the earlier work, Bolivian-horn guitarist Javier Calderón.

The Second Concerto was commissioned by the great Narciso Yepes in 1985 but wasn’t premiered until 1990, shortly before Yepes’s death. It’s classic Hovhaness, with numerous hymn-like passages for the strings contrasted with lively pizzicato sections and fugal textures; the guitar meanwhile rejoices in puckish, modally rich dances enlivened by frequent changes of time signature and broad cantorial utterances. Calderón’s playing is tonally refined and rhythmically supple, qualities which are best savoured in his own third-movement cadenza.

The disc opens with Hovhaness’s Fanfare for the New Atlantis, in which a slumbering orchestra gradually awakens to the call of a solo trumpet before rushing strings, rumbling timpani and bold brass chords bring the work to a thrilling, Wagnerian climax as the lost city of Atlantis rises anew from the waves. The Symphony No 63, Loon Lake, which closes the disc, was commissioned by the New Hampshire Music Festival and the Loon Preservation Society in 1987. Here, songs both avian and pastoral for a multitude of wind soloists punctuate a luminous, if occasionally overcast, orchestral skyscape.

The RSNO under Stewart Robertson is excellent throughout; good recorded sound and notes by Hovhaness’s widow Hinako Fugihara Hovhaness further enhance what is another excellent release in Naxos’s American Classics series.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, July 2008

Naxos are moving with implacable determination around the towering edifice that is the Hovhaness catalogue. Disc after disc is added to their catalogue and discoveries are being made at every turn. This latest volume, set in the context of their American Classics series continues the track record established by: 8.559294 (Symphony 60; Guitar Concerto 1), 8.559207 (Symphonies 4, 20, 53) and 8.559128 (Cello Concerto, Symphony 22).

As is evident from the Saxophone Concerto Hovhaness can be unpredictable and so he proves here. The wonderfully titled Fanfare for the New Atlantis is more of a tone poem with aspects of fanfare in-built. His regal and confident brass writing has the trappings of antiquity—a touch of the Gabriellis—but there is also a sense of modernity, of prayer and of invocation. The most stately aspects of the fanfares at 5:10 recall the striding brass writing in Vaughan Williams’ Pilgrim’s Progress. The origin of the piece seems unknown though it may have some connection with the Francis Bacon Society which believes that Shakespeare was Bacon’s pen-name. Hovhaness was a member of the Society. Amongst Bacon’s writings is The New Atlantis. In any event this Fanfare defies clichés you may have absorbed from knowing the examples by Bliss, Walton and Benjamin. This fanfare is recorded, as are all three works, with lavish resonance yet with no loss in definition.

The Guitar Concerto No. 2 was commissioned by Narciso Yepes who gave the work its premiere at the Granada Festival in 1990, five years after its completion. This may have been delayed by the tragic death of Yepes’ son in the year in which the concerto was completed. There were no other performances after the premiere. Javier Calderón who commissioned the First Guitar Concerto plays it here although David Leisner made the first recording of the guitar concerto (Naxos 8.559294). The Concerto No. 2 is in four movements. The first is an andante which is delicate, stately and Moorish in character. The allegro giusto recalls the Ravel string quartet in its pizzicato and Rodrigo’s Aranjuez in the guitar writing. The andante misterioso makes use of the composer’s trademark in surging and searching unison strings alternating with guitar solo. The two commune in invocation and response. The final adagio, allegro giusto combines the sinuous North African arcana of the first movement with a delicate heel-and-toe dance (2:06) over pizzicato. It will have most listeners wanting to play this piece again and again.

In the Loon Lake Symphony Hovhaness looks back in the first movement (Prelude) through the hybrid Celtic-Oriental cor anglais melody to holidays in New Hampshire. We should remember that Hovhaness spent time at his uncle’s New Hampshire farm. The commission for this work came in 1987 from the New Hampshire Music Festival. The opulent yet understated carpet of the orchestra comprises a delicate interplay of harp, bells, and pizzicato strings murmuring and strumming. The contemplative and partially Debussian second and last movement includes an Andante misterioso which seems to wander in a trance through those countryside memories. The sound of the loon is quoted in this evocative movement (4:30 and 15:03). The co-commissioner of the Symphony was the Loon Preservation Society. The dialogue of woodwind and the steady dripping of harp hold the attention. The flute and oboe have a louche and jazzy character (12:46) over a pizzicato string backdrop. This develops into an episode which has the clarinet singing a Holstian melody which has something of the greensward about it (14:10). The rhapsodic curl of the woodwind solos resonates with Vaughan Williams—this time the [Sinfonia] Antarctica rather than the Tallis Fantasia. This is a most beautiful and naturally eloquent symphony. The grand Purcellian statements which are a Hovhaness watermark are here added silver livery by the harp’s expressive endowment. Over this grandeur the trumpet cries out in a further evocation of the loon.

The notes are helpful and specific—always valuable with Hovhaness—and add to the delights of this fine disc.

Naxos are in their element with the Hovhaness symphonies. Don’t stop now; of a total of 67 there are plenty of unrecorded symphonies to tackle.

I cannot over-emphasised how attractive this music is. Hovhaness wrote in the 1960s of the importance of identifying our own kind of beauty. These three works bear him out completely.

Robert Baxter
Courier-Post, July 2008

Alan Hovhaness (1911–2000) ranks as one of the unique figures in American music. Incredibly prolific—he wrote 67 symphonies—Hovhaness crafted a distinct voice from his Armenian heritage and his fascination with both Eastern and Western music.

Naxos has embarked on a series of recordings of Hovhaness’ music. The latest disc brings three world premiere recordings: “Fanfare for the New Atlantis,” Concerto No 2 for Guitar and Strings, and Symphony No. 63, “Loon Lake” (8.559336 ).

Stewart Robertson and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra revel in the lush sonorities of “Fanfare.” They capture as well the sense of nostalgia and reverence that pervades so many of Hovhaness’ scores.

Javier Calderon gives an assured performance of the guitar concerto. His playing lacks only the sense of joy that eventually erupts midway through the final movement.

The two-movement symphony, commissioned by the Loon Preservation Society, conjures up images and sounds of a New England landscape. The score is tinged with delicate instrumental effects.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2008

Alan Hovhaness belongs to that group of prolific composers who are often reproved for spreading their material over too many works, though, as this disc shows, he speaks a language easily understood by audiences grappling with modernist music. Of mixed Armenian and Scottish descent, he passed through four distinct phases, making it difficult to categorise his output overall, though his religious beliefs have coloured many of his scores. His output included sixty-seven symphonies, the Sixty-third dating from 1988 in his seventy-sixth year, is given the sub-title, Loon Lake, in deference to the Loon Preservation Society who specifically requested that the sound of the loon’s cry be included in the symphony. In his younger years Hovhaness had visited his uncle’s farm in the surrounding countryside, the sounds he heard there recaptured in two movements, the first short, the second extended. It is the bird song that provided him with the thematic material for the second movement, a picture of the hive of natural activity around the lake. The performance uses the revised ending with a trumpet solo of the hermit thrush song. I like this Guitar Concerto greatly, because Hovhaness keeps well away from that Spanish strumming so many composers use, the finale offering instead a really catchy Arabic or Moorish dance. Deep murmurings open the work with a rather rueful melody introduced by the soloist. The gloom eventually lifts with an Oriental dance, the guitar part of sinuous beauty. A short dance acts as a scherzo providing a foil to the chant-like nature of the only slow movement. The soloist is the superb Bolivian-born guitarist, Javier Calderon, a one-time pupil of Segovia and now mainly working in the United States. A clean technique, the sound of left-hand movements kept to a discreet level. The disc is completed by the 1975 Fanfare for the New Atlantis, a score low on inspiration. I don’t suppose the Royal Scottish National has ever seen the music before, but play magnificently for Stewart Robertson, a conductor of Scottish birth but American by adoption. He has an instinctive feel for the composer, the music moving at such a natural speed. Very good sound.

James Manheim, July 2008

All the works on this disc are receiving their first recordings, and this particular set of pieces offers a good entrance point for his modal, very textural art. Consider the Concerto No. 2 for guitar and strings, Op. 394, which nods just enough toward the Iberian conventions of guitar music to set your mind at ease, but then begins to work within very different parameters after you start to listen closely. Three of the four movements make use of the subtle texture of guitar versus plucked strings. The work beautifully plays off the Spanish style of guitarist Javier Calderón, for whom Hovhaness’ other guitar concerto was originally written. The Symphony No. 63 is an impressionistic piece commissioned by the New Hampshire Music Festival, with bird calls characteristic of the New England summer night beautifully woven into the orchestral texture. The opening Fanfare for the New Atlantis, Op. 281, again contains the conventions the subject matter would lead you to expect, but they’re executed in an entirely characteristic way. Who else could get away with the giant peroration of the strings at the end? Hovhaness was of Scots descent, and there does seem to be something Scottish in his modal pitch universe and his quiet orientation toward the natural world; whether for this or some other reason, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Stewart Robertson approaches his music with unusual sympathy and with impressive facility, even if the composer’s symphonies mostly still await performance by the turbo-powered American orchestras Hovhaness imagined as their performers. The booklet notes by the composer’s widow, Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness, are a pleasure in themselves.

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, June 2008

In the ranks of bewilderingly prolific artists, the late composers Alan Hovhaness has emerged since his death in 2000 (at the age of 89), as one of the greatest America has ever produced in any art form. If, for instance, you compare him to Brazil’s equivalently prolific composer Heitor Villa- Lobos, you find the disparity between the greatest Villa-Lobos (in the “Bachianas Brasileras” and the “Choros”) and the hack Villa-Lobos can be very great indeed. While nothing by Hovhaness is quite as sublime (or as popular) as Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileras No. 5,” the gap between the greatest and least Hovhaness is remarkably narrow. While that means there’s enormous sameness in his simple and mystic pre-Arvo Part meditative compositions, it also means most of his serious music is rather wonderful and contains deeply affecting and haunting beauty when it is performed well. And here, by the Royal Scotsmen we are coming to know so well through Naxos, it is performed with all spiritually extended melody and mystique intact.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group