This Delos disc was a request, however I would have been posting it anyway at some point; this is still, my absolute favorite Hovhaness disc of *all time*, something of a "life-changer" for me and was initially going to be my very first post on my blog. Having a "favorite" is a tall order, as there are simply so many gorgeous and spot-on interpretations of AH's music at this point. When I bought this in '94 it was indeed only the 3rd commercially available recording of "Mysterious Mountain" (and the second "all digital" disc, the first being the 1989 MusicMasters disc with Dennis Russell Davies and the American Composers Orchestra, which is a decent but not impressive reading imo). The first available recording was of course the Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony Orchestra lp from 1958; it is considered the "benchmark" version to many, however I disagree-it is very very good, and of the highest historical significance-but Reiner simply takes the second movement, the "Double Fugue" way too fast. The second fugue is practically frantic. Thus I feel quite a bit of the "grandeur" and "mystery" of that majestic "phantom peak" as AH said..it simply diminished by such tempo. This Delos disc with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra is sublime and transcendent, and while it's my opinion (although one shared too by many other hovhaness-obsessed listeners), the tempo is without doubt near-perfect, AH simply did not intend to have the Double Fugue to be taken at racing speeds. The sound quality throughout the entire recording is rich and very fine, and the rest of the works receive definitive readings too.
Hovhaness once said "Mountains are symbols, like pyramids, of man's attempt to know God. Mountains are the symbolic meeting places between the the mundane and spiritual worlds. To some, the Mysterious Mountain may be the phantom peak, unmeasured, thought to be higher than Everest, as seen from great distances by fliers in Tibet. To some, it may be the solitary mountain, the tower of strength over a countryside-Fujiyama, Ararat, Monadnock, Shasta or Grand Teton." Symphony No. 2, "Mysterious Mountain" is, undoubtedly, one of Hovhaness's supreme masterpieces and one of the greatest symphonies written in the 20th century.
The brief "Prayer of St. Gregory" (1946) for trumpet and strings is one of Hovhaness's most enchanting and"spiritual works"-which is actually tangible I'd say, certainly to these ears. Hovhaness described it as being "like a prayer in the dark". I'm still surprised it doesn't get performed all the time; Barber's "Adagio" For Strings is similar in some ways, but ubiquitous; most people have heard it somewhere even if they don't realize what the music is. The "Prayer of St. Gregory" is just as emotional however in a less melancholy, reflective manner; anyhow I feel Barber's Adagio doesn't hold a candle to Hovhaness's "Prayer..", but please do not send any hate mail if you disagree ;)
The composer Roy Harris challenged Hovhaness to write a double fugue; Hovhaness decided to double that challenge and wrote the "Prelude and Quadruple Fugue" (1936; 1954) The work displays, as in much of his music, the contrapuntal techniques of the Baroque that he so admired. The prelude is a short and lyrical introduction to a masterful treatment of four separate fugue subjects, all of which combine to create an effusive and extravagant conclusion.
|Delos CEO, Gerard Schwartz & Alan Hovhaness|
Along with "Mysterious Mountain", "And God Created Great Whales" (1970) (for orchestra and actual recorded whale-songs) has always been one of Hovhaness's best known and popular works. It's a unique composition, especially as in 1970 no one else was writing music for orchestra with recorded sounds of animals! There are several modern examples, one of the most obvious being Rautavaara's "Cantus Articus" for birds and orchestra. There are many aleatoric passages (a Hovhaness creation), including the intro itself-"controlled chaos" mostly for strings and winds..alongside mystical passages for orchestra, bells, and of course the ultimate depiction of nature's majesty courtesy of the whales. The result is a haunting depiction of earth as it emerges from it's primordial chaos.
"Alleluia and Fugue" (1941) evokes Renaissance choral writing (the Alleluia), even more so than "Mysterious Mountain", being both modal and imitative. One takes a journey not unlike Vaughan Williams's "Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis" that is lush and spine-tingling, something AH's tunes offer in abundant quantities.
"Celestial Fantasy" (1935 & 1944) is a highly organized four-voice fugue, with many of the attributes of a Baroque fugue. Marked "Noble and Heroic", the score is dedicated to Armenian Saint and mystic poet Nerses Shnorhali, head of the Armenian Church around 1100.
*The track listing/names, annoyingly, are incorrect for tracks 6-8. I tried several things to fix the tags, yet nothing worked. I have manually changed the names, simply typing the correct ones-however once added to a player the WRONG track names still appear (as the ID3 tags are still wrong). -Try to change this if you can do so easily. Here are the correct tracks:
6)And God Created Great Whales (it's listed incorrectly as "Celestial Fanstasy")
7)Alleluia and Fugue (it's listed incorrectly as "And God Created Great Whales")
8)Celestial Fantasy (it's listed incorrectly as "Alleluia and Fugue")
Sorry all, I wasted over an hour trying to change this..
*I have ripped the disc as ALAC (Apple lossless), however the files are still "m4a". This is an Apple exclusive lossless file type that is compressed (not a contradiction, look it up if you want).
*I don't have the liner notes (pdf) and since I wrote the above I'm not going to type out the notes, this post would seem endless! Enjoy...............................................