This has always been one of my favorite discs, and like many others (years ago) I bought it for the Alan Hovhaness, although I did already quite like Paul Creston, Dello Joio, and Vincent Persichetti.
At the time Julius Chajes was new to me, and his "Israeli Melodies" really did it for me; simple, lyrical, gorgeous string writing.
Each movement in Chajes's suite (there are six) is based on Israeli melodies/songs, although Chajes treats each in a unique fashion: "Song of the Well" is a dorian tune followed by 4 variations each with increasing tempi, and a coda restates the theme accompanied by it's fragments in diminution. "Song of the Pioneers" which is also in the dorian mode, is completely in canon. "Song of the Night" is a two-part melody, both parts being treated in a free contrapuntal style. "Song of the Desert" is also a two-part melody, employing canonic techniques. "Song of Canaan" is a melody containing free counterpoint and canon. "Song of Galilee" is similar to "Song of the Well" really, in technique anyhow, with four variations, each displaying different rhythmic and contrapuntal arrangement of the theme. I can listen to this suite over and over again; although it's inspiration is Israeli/Ancient Hebrew tunes, adding an element of "exotic" I suppose, it also has a simple beauty not unlike (imo) Holst's St. Paul's Suite or Warlocks's Capriol Suite.
Hovhaness's "Armenian Rhapsody No.2" is performed here perfectly, I have never heard a recording that can top it. Based on a "dagh" (Armenian sacred song) and two peasant songs, the opening is both somber and majestic. A melody in faster tempo is developed in canon, and then after a climax, the music recedes into dark passages for violas and cellos. Suddenly a dancing song is heard accompanied by a plucked version of the preceding melody. A new, livelier theme enters (and it's so damn good, so ecstatic!) the polyphonic vortex projecting a whirling fugue of fiery rhythms.
"Celestial Fantasy" is dedicated to an Armenian saint and mystic poet (circa 1100) and is a solemn fugue, surrounded by lyrical melismatic passages in the violas and cellos. The fugal development becomes contrary motion, canon with augmentation (large notes) and then the full strings bring it all to a close.
Paul Creston's "Chant of 1942" I'm not too impressed with. Creston was one of the great American composers and I enjoy most of his output. "Chant" was described by the composer as "one person's moods in the contemplation of events" (events being of course the war, as well as the "tragedy of the Jews" and Lidice which is mentioned specifically). Perhaps you will like it, for me it's all too lugubrious. Creston's "Suite for String Orchestra" is a lighter and lively affair, with lovely contrapuntal string writing and a couple rather playful dances (especially in the last movement "Cumulus", it's a real beauty)
Norman Dello Joio descended from three generations of Italian church organists and was himself an organist by age 14. Dello Joio went to Julliard graduate school and then after studied with Paul Hindemith. "Air for Strings" was composed in a simple ternary form, and is an uncomplicated piece exploring basic string sonorities.
Vincent Persichetti began his musical life at 5 years old studying piano, followed by organ, double bass, tuba, theory and composition. By 11 he was performing professionally and his earliest published compositions are from when he was 14. "Introit for Strings" is a quiet, introspective work which like the Dello Joio piece, explores the sonorities and textures of a string ensemble. I will add that I will be posting in the future works by Dello Joio and Persechetti that are much more impressive and powerful. Same goes for Creston although his works on this disc are at least representative.