I'd like to wish everyone a very happy new year, hoping it shall be one full of health, happiness, and needless to say much musical exploration and joyful discovery ;)
I wanted to post this disc new year's eve but I simply ran out of time as I had to get somewhere for a thorough two days of celebration; really just a nice excuse to get together with friends, with conversations reflecting on the year that has passed minimally discussed. Much more chatter is over such things like which Belgian ale or IPA being consumed is the best. Anyway this seems to me like a capital choice of material for the first post of 2015. Hovhaness's Symphony No. 11 "All Men Are Brothers" is one of his lesser known recorded symphonies, and it's a lovely work (somewhat atypical compared to his other symphonies from the 1960's) that makes a beautiful argument via AH's globally appealing sound world for world peace, a return to an existence that is simplistic, more spiritual and purged of the chaos and daily toxins that come with it. And most of all-an unwavering love for all things in nature. At least that's what I always get from the 11th every time I experience it. This is altogether a wonderful disc (every Crystal Records album dedicated to Hovhaness is of the highest order, with interpretations typically extremely close (or spot-on) to AH's original conceptions. It's one of the finest (rather unsung) classical labels in the world-and one of the most passionate as well.
Here are the program notes by Hovhaness himself, I am merely typing them:
"Commissioned by Edward B. Benjamin in honor of the 25th anniversary of the New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony, this symphony received its world premiere in New Orleans on March 21 1961, conducted by Frederick Fennell. During the summer of 1969 a completely new version of the symphony was composed in Luzern, Switzerland. The first performance of the final version was conducted by Werner Torkanowsky with the New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra on March 31, 1970.
The first movement, Andante Apassionato, opens with a love theme in 13 beats which is developed throughout the entire movement. A lyrical variation in 7 beats leads to a climax where the 13-beat love-melody is proclaimed in full orchestra.
The second movement, Allegro Maestoso, unfolds a giant melody which is in the form of a vast rondo. The music is in the spirit of a festive processional with a dance interlude and a lively fugue and coda.
The third movement, Andante con Nobilita, begins with a theme in 11 beats in praise of universal love. A central fugue in 7 beats leads to a triumphal return of the 11-beat melody in praise of the universe. "And the voice of the Lord Buddha was heard like the sound of a great gong hung in the skies, saying that though one met a thousand men on his way they would all be one's brothers." The symphony is an attempt to express a positive faith in universal cosmic love as the only possible ultimate goal for man and nature. Let all unite in peace on our tiny planet, our floating village, our little space ship, as we journey across mysterious endlessness.
Armenian Rhapsody No. 1, Opus 45, for string orchestra, was composed April, 1944, and performed in a concert of Hovhaness music on June 17, 1944, in Boston, which I conducted. The music begins with a plow song sung before dawn, "We go out to plow in the dark before dawn. A star in the sky, a light on the altar. We plow in the dark earth. What would become of the world if we did not plow?" Three dance tunes follow, bringing the music to a festive close. This is one of the very few works based on Armenian Mountain Village tunes.
Prayer of Saint Gregory, for trumpet and string orchestra, was an intermezzo in my religious opera Etchmiadzin. This opera was composed during May, 1946, and I conducted it in New York City in October of the same year. Saint Gregory the Illuminator brought Christianity to Armenia around the year 301. This music is like a prayer in darkness. Saint Gregory was cast into the pit of a dungeon where he miraculously for about fifteen years after which he healed the King's madness.
Tzaikerk (Evening Song), for solo flute, solo violin, timpani, and string orchestra, was composed in 1945 and performed under my direction on March 10 1946, in Symphony Hall, Boston, Mass. For the present recording, Roto-toms were used instead of timpani. The flute, drums, and strings perform a lively polyphonic dance-like web of sound. A sombre solo violin melodic line enters, defiant, unyielding, deep, aloof, refusing to join in the dancing texture of rapid melodies, counter melodies, and counter rhythms. The other instruments gradually become subdued by the dark solo violin's compelling persistence. The festival gradually becomes lyrical and spiritual. The string orchestra recedes into a mysterious, whispered pizzicato background, a soft ostinato carpet of sound with long, star-like tones sounded above in the flute. The solo violin has at last silenced the antagonistic dance and sings a long meditative melody of adoration and spiritual serenity".
I think the Symphony No. 11 is one of his finest, and in my opinion is of masterpiece status, as is the "Armenian Rhapsody No. 1" and, without any shred of doubt, or counterargument even conceivable to me-the compact and intensely beautiful "Prayer of Saint Gregory". "Tzaikerk" is a perpetually exciting opus that brings this, one of the Jewels in Crystal's AH crown, to a magnificent and deeply satisfying close. (In fact I couldn't stop myself from listening to the disc three times in a row this evening!)