Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Alan Hovhaness - Symphony No. 25 "Odysseus" Symphony No. 6 "Celestial Gate" - Prayer of Saint Gregory - Polyphonia Orchestra of London, Alan Hovhaness - Crystal Records 1993

This Crystal disc includes two of my favorite (along with Vishnu, Mysterious Mountain, Star Dawn, Etchmaidzin and others)  Hovhaness symphonies. Symphony No. 6 (Celestial Gate) is undeniably and without a doubt - one of his most beautiful creations. The Symphony No. 25 (Odysseus) is a much lesser known symphony and structurally speaking it is full of exciting unpredictability; indeed, it's one of the more esoteric, odd-ball symphonies like the great "Vishnu" Symphony No. 19 and it's of the strongest appeal for me. "Odysseus" reminds me not of any other Hovhaness symphony. Ok, It does have some of the wandering, sense-misura passages not unlike Vishnu but that's about it, and it's to a much lesser extent.

One of many sections that really "does it" for me is in the second movement, AH has described it as storm music. The 'tempest' for me starts at 5'29 (this wild tension and energy is finally released around the 10'20 mark) with the sudden steep ascent in the strings and glissando from the timpani, followed immediately by a declamation from a single horn - this leads directly to rising and falling strings that suddenly surge forth canonically - the violins here lunge violently (oh how I love this!!), like a pack of vicious beasts closing in - I can also easily imagine this to be multiple lightning strikes piercing the dark skies during this tempestuous battle. The drums sustain the thunderous procession and the entire orchestra rises up volcanically - especially the brass - only to be silenced, albeit briefly, once again by the lunging of the "beasts". This continues once more with swirling crescendi until finally the storms and oceans fail to overwhelm. Glorious and triumphal music follows
however by this point I want to go back to the first rumblings at 5'29 :)

Symphony No. 6 (Celestial Gate) blew me away from the very first hearing years ago. It is simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music that I have ever heard. Ok time to confess. Although this recording has Hovhaness conducting all three of his masterpieces here - I actually prefer the superb Telarc disc with Rudolf Werthen conducting The Orchestra of Flanders. "Celestial Gate" is imo no where more transportive than here (well, there) and frankly I prefer the tempi that Werthen employs over the composer's (I know it's blasphemy). The tempo does not always differ all that much, and certainly the Polyphonia Orchestra are sublime. The mastering on this Crystal Records disc is very fine although Telarc's 20-bit sound (and this was only 1995) cannot be beat. The entire all-Hovhaness program is magnificent on the Telarc although clearly this Crystal recording is the more important of the two with AH conducting two of his best symphonies. The "Prayer of Saint Gregory" which is surely one of AH's best known pieces is played here by the maestro himself a tad faster than most other readings, which is interesting to me as I always hear this "prayer in the dark" has Hovhaness put it, unfolding slower - even in my mind. "Prayer of Saint Gregory" it really too gorgeous for words and I have said it before and will so again: this might be the best 4+ minutes one can experience at anyplace or anytime. 

There is also a third recording of AH's Symphony No. 6 on Koch with the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra conducted by Richard Auldon Clark. I'm pretty sure I posted it last year.

I know it's been shared before but the Telarc disc I will have to post as well, it's too good not to have.
Plus this way I get a reprieve - I have many thoughts about Symphony No. 6 "Celestial Gate" and now they shall wait :) 

Here are Hohvaness's notes on this delight of a recording:

Enjoy the magnificence!!




coppinsuk said...

Hi TZ,

So pleased that you appear to be back to your usual "peak fitness". It is really good to read your blog and to download the most enlightening of music.

Also I am happy that you found Buster's "10 inch" blogspot and reference to your beloved Hovhaness contained therein.

Just take of yourself - tale it easy.

All the very best.


Douglas (UK)

Marcelo Lasta said...

SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUPER GRACIAS LA 25 DE HOVAHNESS JAMÁS LA ESCUCHÉ,toda una primicia,un cd fabuloso,graciaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas Tzadik .Doc.Tapirman.

coppinsuk said...

Hi again TZ,

Do you have access to the booklet notes that accompany this recording - if so, is there any indication of whom the "Polyphonia Orchestra of London" is - or any of the personnel? Or even the recording location and date?

Would be really interested to know.

Thanking you in anticipation.


Douglas (UK)

Toon van Dijk said...

Many thanks and regards from The Netherlands.
Veel dank en groeten uit Nederland.