For any Hovhaness fan, this is just a spectacular disc. I cherish it very much, although I confess to cherishing anything having to do with Alan Hovhaness. These two symphonies were world premieres and remain so. It's hard to imagine performances that would be better-for me the pacing and general "feeling" is close to that of Hovhaness conducting himself. The sound too is rather good and the KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) Orchestra deliver first-rate performances and style. Symphony No. 46 subtitled "To The Green Mountains" (as in the Mountains of Vermont during the warmer seasons) is one of my favorite Hovhaness symphonies; I can easily listen to it several times a day, or in a row-for me the journey taken is not unlike the otherworldliness and spiritual grandeur experienced whilst traveling to the "phantom peak" of the sublime Mysterious Mountain (the almost-proof-that-a-god-might-exist Symphony No. 2, Opus 132). Symphony No. 46 truly is peregrination clad in nothing but beauty. The Symphony No. 39 for Guitar and Orchestra is quite lovely too, especially the long (19:07) first movement, an Adagio, with it's opening strings lush and grand, followed by quieter passages for solo guitar, delicate and often exotically colored. Then the strings return, the guitar is almost "swept away" in the process (indeed, the guitar is something of a traveller as well in this symphony!)
Symphony No. 46 "To The Green Mountains" was completed in 1980. The work was dedicated to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and was first performed by that orchestra in May of 1981. The symphony is in four movements:
Prelude - Short woodwind solos and softly undulating harp lead to a lament for orchestra in 7/4 time.
Aria, Hymn and Fugue - This movement is simply gorgeous. The Aria features a beautiful extended melody for solo flute, with a flavor that is clearly from the Far East. Featured in the accompaniment is solo harp, vibraphone, and pizzicato strings. The stately Hymn is in 7/4 time and opens with strings and woodwinds and later, brass. The extended Fugue marked Allegro Appassionato (it seems more like a flowing Maestoso to me) is predominantly for strings and woodwinds and is religious is spirit. I think it's one of Hovhaness's finest fugues. All of the brass returns at the end of the movement when the hymn reappears.
River and Forest Music - This movement, as it's title implies, contained two main sections. The first features a memorable folk-like theme for the oboe. The accompaniment includes a second oboe, harp, and pizzicato strings. The second portion is dance-like and features two flutes. The music is contrapuntal and is accompanied by pizzicato strings. A brief reference to the opening oboe melody concludes the movement.
Mountain Thunderstorm and Thanksgiving Music - Following a passage for two trumpets and strings, the thunderstorm begins. Two frequently found types of writing in Hovhaness's work can be observed: the first is the use of senza misura passages and the second is the use of cycles. Senza misura (or "controlled chaos", considered by many to be a Hovhaness invention) means "without strict time". During the thunderstorm, each performer in the string section plays their passage over and over at an independent tempo until the conductor gives the cue to stop. Although brief, this is one of my favorite senza misura passages in any AH work; I can hear/see the whirling wind, the lightning striking the mountain in several locations simultaneously-it's imo a gripping and effective moment! When cycles are used, a rhythmic pattern is presented that repeats itself over and over. Often the pattern includes rests and is scored for percussion instruments. Frequently two or more parts are written cycles simultaneously. This is the case in the thunderstorm section at the timpani, bass drum, giant tam-tam, and piccolo are used. The Thanksgiving Music/Hymn is in 7/4 time and features bassoons and strings. The frequently used combination of quarter notes and half notes in AH's work can be found (7/4 qqq hh). Expressive woodwind solos lead to a second hymn which acts like a coda. This concluding material is for full orchestra with the chimes providing a feeling of spiritual grandeur. A knockout, I think..
The Symphony No. 39 for Guitar and Orchestra was completed in 1978. The work was commissioned by and dedicated to Michael Long, who, before making this recording, studied extensively the traditional music of Japan. This symphony is also in four movements:
Adagio - The opening of this movement alternates between a stately theme (initially stated in the strings) and guitar. The solo instrument plays material inspired from parts of Asia. A brief contrapuntal section for strings leads to more melodic material featuring the soloist. One of the many memorable sections in this movement pairs the solo guitar with a solo English horn. The thematic material written for the English horn in accompanied by rolled chords in the harp. This section ends with contrapuntal treatment of the stately opening theme.
Allegro - This movement is a pastoral dance in 3/4 time. Featured is the solo guitar, woodwinds, and and pizzicato strings. A brief senza misura for guitar and strings brings this movement to a close.
Andante - The beginning of this part alternates solo guitar and orchestra. The material for the ensemble features repeated chords with the inclusion of passing notes especially in the lower instruments. As is the case with much of the rest of the symphony, the guitar plays material inspired by the Far East. Later on, a duet for clarinet and piano appears and is eventually joined by pizzicato strings. The movement continues with a section for solo guitar and woodwinds and concludes with a march-like section with strings, woodwinds, percussion and solo guitar.
Allegro - In this short but exciting movement there are several canonic sections in the brass. The music, in 6/8 time, is accompanied by strings and timpani.
"Milyang Arirang" is a representative folk song of the eastern region of Gyeongsang, Gangwon and Hamgyeong Provinces. The folksongs of all three Provinces are together classified as "dongbu minyo" (Eastern folksongs), sharing the same scale and modal practices known as "menaritori" with strong musical details, melodic characteristics and subtleties, heard in the distinctive sikimsae (melodic ornamentation and pitch gestures) patterns. Here it has been arranged by Kim Hee Jo, and it's a nice addition to the program.