Saturday, March 14, 2015

Michael Horvit - Cullen Overture - Concerto for Brass Quintet & Orchestra - Invocation & Exultation - Aleinu (Adoration) - Daughters of Jerusalem: Fantasy for Violin & Orchestra - Albany Records 1997

Michael Horvit is yet another example of a great yet seriously neglected American composer. Albany Records to the rescue! Indeed the Albany catalog is overflowing with hidden gems and in many cases neglected masterpieces. I feel indebted to the label, their mission has provided me with an abundance of excitement and joy. The majority of Arnold Rosner's recorded music is on Albany, enough reason alone to make me want to seek out Albany's founder Peter Kermani and the producer John Proffitt just to give them long, awkward hugs :) Horvit's music will be enthusiastically welcomed and enjoyed by anyone who loves melodic, proudly tonal 20th century music in a style not unlike Walter Piston, Eric Ewazen, Arnold Rosner, Aaron Copland (Horvit studied with both Walter Piston and Aaron Copland as well as Lucas Foss and Quincy Porter), David Diamond, Paul Creston and others. As Horvit has also written many works that take inspiration from Israeli and Hebraic sources, this is music too that listeners fond of Ernst Bloch, Ben-Haim, Joseph Achron etc. will undoubtedly enjoy.

Michael Horvit (b. 22 June 1932) received his bachelor of music and master of music degrees from Yale University and his doctorate of musical arts from Boston University and is a Professor at the University of Houston Moores School of Music, where he has headed the Theory and Composition Department since 1967. He also served for 25 years as the music director at Houston’s Temple Emanu El and is also co-author of three widely used theory texts. He is the recipient of awards from organizations that include B.M.I., ASCAP, the Martha Baird Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fridge Trust, Meet the Composer, the F. O. Butler Foundation, and the University of Houston.

His works have been performed in the U.S. and abroad, although clearly not very much. They range from solo instrument and vocal works to large symphonic compositions, choral cantatas and operas, many written specifically for the Jewish liturgy. Among his significant works are his "Even When God Is Silent" and "A Child’s Journey", based on poems by the Israeli poet Yaakov Barzilai, "Invocation and Exultation" for string orchestra, which has been performed throughout Europe and in Japan; "Land of Dreams", a cantata celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel; "The Mystic Flame" a choral symphony, the "Concerto for Brass Quintet and Orchestra, commissioned by the Chicago Chamber Brass; "Antiphon II", for clarinet and electronic tape; and "The Gardens of Hieronymus B.", premiered by the Houston Symphony, which Horvit has called a "free (musical) interpretation" of the painting by the 15th-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch-and whose title is taken from Bosch’s triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. 

Until the opening of the Moores School of Music in 1997, Cullen Performance Hall was the main concert hall on the campus of the University of Houston. In October, 1988, after a year of extensive renovations, the hall was rededicated with a gala concert featuring the "Cullen Overture", which was commissioned by the university for the occasion.

The overture begins with a stately brass fanfare. This is followed by a fast section which contains two ideas: the first, very rhythmic and featuring the percussion; the second, a lyrical theme stated by the cellos and first bassoon. The central part of the overture is slow. A mysterioso section played by tremolo strings is followed by a chorale, presented by the brass and restated by the winds. The themes of the fast section return and are followed by a brief restatement of the opening fanfare, which brings the overture to a stirring conclusion.

Commissioned by Richard Frazier for the Chicago Chamber Brass, the "Concerto for Brass Quintet and Orchestra" is a showpiece for brass and orchestra. It explores the wide palette of technical and expressive qualities offered by the brass quintet. These attributes are presented together with and sometimes in contrast to the infinitely variable sonorities of the symphony orchestra.

The work has three movements. The first and third are fast, energetic, and vivacious. Rhythmic excitement and the colors of percussion section play a large part in these movements. There are quick shifts from one section of the orchestra to another, and significant displays of technical virtuosity by the solo quintet. In its outer sections, the orchestra provides a sensuous, contrapuntal texture, against which the solo quintet presents its own dialogues and solos. The middle section is an antiphonal chorale for the solo and orchestral brass.

The lyrical "Invocation and Exultation" was commissioned by the Missouri Unit of the American String Teachers Association in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death and was premiered in January, 1991. The subscript to the title page bears the dates, 1791-1991. There are subtle references to Mozart's music in the piece. This is especially true of the first movement which is largely built on an inversion (which re-inverts itself, eventually) of the main theme of Symphony No. 41, last movement. The first movement is "a call to the spirit of Mozart". It is built on a series of canonic entrances, each a self-contained arch, which combine with increasing intensity to a chorale climax. The second movement is a lively mixed meter dance celebrating the spirit of Mozart. It is in ternary form, with the opening and closing sections in an exuberant fortissimo, while the middle section is a calm reflection of the first movement.

"Aleinu" or "Adoration" in Hebrew was commissioned by Congregation Emanu El, Houston, in 1985, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of Rabbi Robert I. Kahn. Composed for baritone, solo violin, SATB choir, and organ, it was premiered in the spring of that year with the composer conducting and Fredell Lack as the violin soloist. This prayer is one of the most important and ancient in Jewish liturgy a heartfelt expression of belief in God. The baritone soloist sings the original Hebrew text, while the choir responds with the English translation. The organ is heard throughout, binding the work together, providing unity and continuity. The melodic style of both solo voice and violin is patterned after the cantorial tradition of Jewish worship. "Aleinu" was written ten years prior to the Daughters of Jerusalem. The composer writes: "Every time I heard Fredell perform the Aleinu, I was deeply moved by her depth of expression, her intuitive, complete understanding of the style, and her gorgeous tone. Over the years we discussed my following Aleinu with a major work for her. At last, with Daughters of Jerusalem, the opportunity arrived." This is a truly beautiful composition, ethereal and spiritually potent. Although "Aleinu" is brief, it shares some of the atmosphere found in parts of Bloch's masterpiece, the 50+ minute "Sacred Service" (Avodath Hakodesh) scored for large chorus, soloists and orchestra. 

"Daughters of Jerusalem" and this special work (Aleinu) are my favorites on this rare disc.

"Daughters of Jerusalem-Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra" was commissioned by Congregation Emanu El, Houston, and is dedicated to violinist Fredell Lack, who premièred it at Temple Emanu El on 25 February 1996, with Franz Anton Krager conducting the Moores School Symphony Orchestra. This is an extremely gorgeous work, the finest work on this recording and not to be missed imo.
"Daughters..." is titled a Fantasy, because it does not follow the usual plan of a concerto, but rather draws its inspiration and meaning from several poems taken from 'The Song of Songs'. The text which provides inspiration for the music consists of three longer poems introduced, separated and followed by a brief refrain. The Fantasy follows the same design, and is played without pause between the movements. Music based on the following short poem, and varying at each appearance, serves as an Introduction, Interludes, and Postlude to the three main movements. The title of the fantasy is taken from this poem:

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
By the gazelles, and by the hinds of the field,
That ye awaken not, nor stir up love, until it please.

The three main movements contrast in tempo, character, and emotional content. The first is a lyrical, lush, romantic expression of love.

As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters...
Stay ye me with dainties, refresh me with apples; For I am lovesick.

The middle movement is agitated at first;

"By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth..."

Then builds in intensity;

"I sought him, but I found him not."

And culminates in an explosion of energy;

"When I found him whom my soul loveth, I held him and would not let him go..."

The music of the final movement evolves from the music of the first. It begins expectantly:

"I sleep, but my heart waketh; Hark! My beloved knocketh.
My beloved put his hand by the hole of the door,
And my heart was moved for him."

And ends in despair:

I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had turned away, and was gone... The watchmen that go about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me..."

The final statement of the refrain, as in the biblical text, differs from the others:

"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
If ye find my beloved, what will ye tell him?
That I am love-sick."

The substantial Fantasy has many of the characteristics we generally associate with a concerto. It contrasts the solo violin with a large orchestra, and much of the music for the solo violin displays the virtuoso qualities of the instrument. While the orchestra is moderate in size, so as not to overpower the solo violin, the instrumentation was chosen for its coloristic possibilities. The English horn and harp in particular, are given major roles.

Track listing:

1) "Cullen Overture" (1988) (11:43) (Texas Music Festival Orchestra, Adrian Gnam, conductor)

"Concerto for Brass Quintet & Orchestra" (1989)

2) I-fast, with energy (5:50)
3) II-moderately slow; sustained (8:17)
4) III-very fast (4:15) 

(The Ambient Brass, Moores School of Music Symphony Orchestra, Franz Anton Krager, conducting)

"Invocation & Exultation" (1990)

5) Invocation-moderately slow (5:54)
6) Exultation-very fast (3:03)

(Norrbotten Chamber Orchestra, Sweden, Leon Spierer, conductor)

7) Aleinu ("Adoration") (1985) (9:32) (Fredell Lack, violin; Stephen Smith, baritone, 
Moores School Concert Chorale, Robert Jones, organ, Charles Hausmann, conductor )

"Daughters of Jerusalem-Fantasy for Violin & Orchestra" (1996) (24:00)

8) Prelude-slow, very sustained

9) Interlude-slow, very sustained

10) Interlude-slow, very sustained
III-very sustained; flowing; with energy; Postlude-as at first

(Fredell Lack, violin, Moores School of Music Symphony Orchestra, Franz Anton Krager, conducting)  TT: 72:36



Anonymous said...

Gracias por esta gema inencontrable en toda la red,gracias y abrazos,tu amigo Tapirman!!

Tzadik said...

Hola Doctor Tapir, you are quite welcome my friend! I was hoping to post a lot this weekend but didn't have the time..I hope you enjoy today's (single) post :)


Squirrel said...

Wow, great stuff, never ever heard of Horvit, thanks!
Is there any chance you could post Walton's symphonies when you get a chance?

Tzadik said...

Hi Squirrel

Funny, I was going through some Walton discs yesterday including the symphonies. So to answer your question...yes :)