I wanted this disc to be my very first post on this blog however I couldn't locate either of my 2 copies of it. This disc is in my "top 5" recordings-of all time. It is also of profound significance for me, as it is the reason, or pathway if you will, to my long-term friendship with composer Arnold Rosner. Hard to find even back in 1991, I was looking for this disc for Hovhaness's "Shepherd of Israel", a magnificent opus for String Orchestra, Cantor, and Flute. I had never heard of Rosner before, and whilst I was already in complete bliss by the time (both) Hovhaness works had ended, it was Rosner's "Responses, Hosanna, and Fugue" that "changed" me. I was simply blown away, speechless...this was music of the gods I thought, music that sounded *exactly* how I wanted music to sound, music that affected me precisely how I wanted music to affect me, and on every possible level move me and provide the highest level of emotional impact. I could barely sit still while experiencing this music, I found myself swaying, often with my eyes closed or sitting still whilst holding my head, the music pulsing thru my veins. Soon after I bought every Rosner recording available, which was perhaps 4-5 relatively unknown discs, to even the most seasoned listener. I was compelled to contact the composer, and managed to find a simple site that listed his works, and also listed "contact" info on the works, an email address. So I wrote an email, for over an hour, at least three pages worth. To my delight it was Rosner's email (I though it might just go to a publisher, thus my heart-spilling email to be left in vain). He wrote back and the rest is history as they say. It's a fascinating story imo but I wont bore you all with the details!
"Responses, Hosanna, and Fugue" is for String Orchestra, String Quartet and Harp. The first movement will recall for the listener RVW's "Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis", however in Rosner's entirely unique voice; stylistically there are similarities, which as I mentioned above falls in the category of exactly how I wish music to sound. The second movement has a lively dance-like theme, with unexpected twists and turns along the way. The third movement is a stately fugue, which ends quietly, allowing this listener to "recover" from all the beauty ;)
Here is a paragraph by Rosner himself, taken from the liner notes of the disc:
Responses, Hosanna, and Fugue was written in 1977 and is my only work purely for string orchestra. Who among us is not moved by responsorial singing, in the mosque, the synagogue, a tribal open field, or innumerable denominations of churches? Classical works (by Victoria, among others) have made telling use of the idea; in the first movement of my work, I have applied it to an instrumental setting. Toward this end a string quartet is separated from the main orchestra, the harp freely joining either group, and we hear any number of dialogues and overlaps. For the rest, the quartet players rejoin their colleagues, although little ensembles (such as three violas and harp) may form and dissolve along the way.
The middle movement should sound rather jaunty and is in 5/4 time, with additional wrinkles and irregularities. The modal theme is subjected to several manipulations, some contrapuntally motivated. One variant diverges from the 5-meter and may recall folk tunes. No particular song was consciously used; my sub-conscious pleads nolo contendere.
The Fugue is not especially rigorous after the imitative opening. The main subject recurs often, but much of the material is harmonically (or dramatically) driven. The content is a bit plaintive, but in the end all urgency is relieved, and the close may recall the attitude of the first movement. (Notes by Arnold Rosner)
Dello Joio's Pulitzer award winning "Meditations on Ecclesiastes" is written in densely drenched harmonies twisted through the spectrum by Bergian ecstasy. This is of such intensity that it tips over into anguish. It is not music of Oriental inclination (not Hovhaness; not Bloch) rather do we veer reflectively between Finzi-Barber and Shostakovich's writing for strings. The Spumante movement revels in the debonair flush of Britten's Simple Symphony. However this is overwhelmingly a work of inwardness and brooding and the effect is brilliantly carried off by the Philharmonia aided by the open-minded engagement of David Amos and the solo 'voices' of Hugh Bean (remember his Lark Ascending with Boult and his brilliant broadcast Bax Violin Concerto) and the solo cello of David Jones.
Hovhaness's "Psalm and Fugue" is a gorgeous work for Strings, which Hovhaness composed in 1940 in a coffee shop in Boston. The work was actually written "for" the composer himself, to help him stay calm and centered during a time of personal crisis. This is a spine-tingling modal work, here speaks a composer utterly in thrall to tonality -it's a bit like exotic Vaughan Williams branching out from Flos Campi via chant and descanting melisma.
Hovhaness's "Shepherd of Israel" is entirely entrancing and authentically a mystical experience.
It was dedicated to the founding of the State of Israel. It's sonorities alternate between the improvisatory sounds of a shepherd's pipe (flute) and the cantillation of a synagogue cantor. Also heard is AH's trademark pizzicato adding to the mystery. All these sounds are interlaced with lush string sonorities utilizing fugal subjects and contrapuntal technique. A small masterpiece.
Please enjoy. *More than ever I would appreciate feedback on this disc*