American Classics - Hovhaness: Guitar Concerto No 2, Symphony No 63

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Perhaps the best Hovhaness instalment so far from Naxos.

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 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-emphasise 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.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8559336

  • UPC: 636943933626

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Alan Hovhaness

  • Conductor: Stewart Robertson

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Royal Scottish National Orchestra

  • Performer: Javier Calderon