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Hovhaness: Symphonies 7, 14 and 23
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The late Alan Hovhaness (1911 -- 2000)was a prolific composer of 67 symphonies among many other works and his reputation has grown since his death. His music is exotic but accessible and it is immediately recognizable. This is the fifth Naxos CD of Hovhaness as part of its invaluable "American Classics" series and the second devoted to his unusual work as a composer of symphonies for wind band. The first Naxos CD of Hovhaness wind symphonies was released in 2005. It featured the noted conductor Keith Brion and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama Wind Orchestra in performances of symphonies 4, 20, and 53, together with the "Prayer of St. Gregory" for trumpet. Hovhaness: Symphonies Nos. 4, 20 & 53; The Prayer of St. Gregory The CD under review was recorded in 2008 and released in May, 2010. It features Brion with the Trinity College of Music Wind Orchestra performing three Hovhanness wind symphonies, No. 7,14, and 23. The works are beautifully played and recorded. They are excellent, varied compositions which I enjoyed a great deal. They helped broaden my appreciation of Hovhaness. These three works have been recorded before, but I was unfamiliar with them. Hovhaness wrote the brief but useful liner notes. His short poem "Lament to Ani" is included as part of the notes.

The three symphonies here, are each in three movements and, as with much of Hovhaness, are programatic in character. Two of the works, No. 7 and No. 14 date from 1959 and 1960. They are sharp, rhythmic, and jagged minatures of under 15 minutes. Hovhaness composed the third work, the symphony no. 23, in 1972. This is a longer, more elaborately romantic and meditative work of about 35 minutes in length. With their brass chorales and counterpoint, these works will remind some listeners of renaisance brass music.

The symphony no. 7, op. 178, "Nanga Parvat" celebrates an isolated, craggy, and treeless mountain of 26,000 feet in Kashmir. The symphony is highly percussive. The opening movement, "con ferocita" consists almost entirely of a highly rhythmic solo for drum interspersed with wind passages which float over the incessant percussion. This is an unusual movement which stayed in my mind. The second movement is a rhythmical march. The drumbeat continues, but Hovhaness adds extensive brass chorales and fluttering high woodwind figures over the changing rhythms. There is much use of canonic, contrapuntal writing. The finale, "Sunset" begins with a slow, expansive sole for oboe over subdued drums. As the movement progresses, a chorale and bells are added. Near the end of the work, Hovhaness adds a delicious three-note repeated figure for the harp together with the bells and the continued song in the oboe.

Symphony no. 14, "Ararat", as was its predecessor, was composed for the American Wind Symphony of Pittsburgh. Hovhaness aptly describes this work as a "symphony of rough-hewn sounds." The three movements have no headings indicating tempo or mood. Hovhaness makes use of long rhythmic phrases, with shifting, jagged and odd markings, such as 5/8, 13/8, 17/8. The work opens with a slow, dischordant chorale over a large drum roll. A long, flowing melody soon follows in the clarinet, counterpointed by the bassoon. The movement ultimately assumes the character of a chorale with groups of brass pitted against each other over fluttering wind figures. The middle movement features loud, clangorous bells and drum beats. Fluttering sounds in the higher wind instruments are juxtaposed against growling figures in the lower brass. The finale begins with an extended drum roll. There a long, extended solos for trumpet over the continuing beat of the drum. The music has both an exotic and a renaisance character.

The Symphony no. 23 "Ani" differs from its companions in length and mood. It celebrates a medieval Armenian town which Hovhaness describes as a "city of a thousand and one cathedrals." Tempos tend to be slow, and the musical phrases are long and developed without the rhythmic ferocity of the two earlier wind symphonies. A long and slowly expanding chorale theme with extensive accompaniment by bells dominates the opening "Adagio legato espressivo" of the "Ani" symphony. There is a bassoon solo, bird-like wind passages, and a large fugual conclusion. The second movement, "Allegro grazioso" features bells over a subdued drum beat which underlies the movement. The clarinet, flute, and chorus of bells, (called a gamelan) have lovely melodic solo passages over the drum. The finale, marked "Agagio con molta expressione" is a lengthy movement of 16 minutes which builds slowly to a climax. It is nostalgic elegy for Ani and its cathedrals which works to a conclusion of triumph. The movement consists of an extended brass chorale with solo passages for the clarinet near the top of its register. Gradually the movement develops into a fugue featuring three brass voices. The symphony ends with a sparkling and brilliant chorus of tinkling and triumphant bells.

The "Ani" symphony is the most immediately accessible of the works here. With several hearings, I became more attracted to the first two symphonies. Although he tended to be spurned by critics during his lifetime, Hovhaness has always had a substantial following and his stature continues to grow. I have enjoyed the several Naxos releases of Hovhaness, and I continue to look forward to hearing more of his music.

Total time: 62:43

Robin Friedman
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2013
This is a unique recording in that it contains three of Hovhaness' early symphonies. Alan wrote several symphonies on mountain themes; the expansive nature of these themes are readily heard in these recordings. The recording is excellent and reflects this American composer early in his life (He was to write over 65 symphonies.) I should also remark that several middle-eastern themes reflecting his Armenian background are also captured in these works. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and this recording.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2014
01-30-14 As Monty Python used to say, And now for something completely different," boy, and how. This CD contains three of AH's wind Symphonies, Numbers 7, 14 and 23. He wrote _____in all, and this trio is amongst his best efforts. Strange but interesting music, the Symphonyu #7 reuns for only 14:10 and opens with a solo from side drums and timpani. It is marked "con ferocita" and fierce it is, as the drums fade waywe get some brass work trombones growling and snarling as in Berlioz. Quite impressive, even though odd. By 02:50 the winds join in with the brass and percussion. A sharp, clear trumpet steps forward at 03:05 followed by another and a touch of Spanish style, almost reminding me of the pop tune "The Lonely Bull." No kidding!This is corse, dissonant music but, it really is rather interesting. The 2nd movvement March in "isorhythmic form" means______________________ and it runs only for a brief 3:40. Some wild and intricate wind word with punctuations from the upper brass and the momentum buildsto whzt I tyhink will be an abrupt endingBoom, I was right!
The final section is a "sunset" with a plaintive English Horn and sopme gentle wind support. Ever since I firsat heard, as a solo instrument, the English Horn, in "Tristan und Isolde," as in the sheaphard song, I have enjoyed this beautiful and evocative instrument. It should be used more I did not care for the fact that this "Symphony" ended as abruptly sa it did.
The second of this trio of Wind Symphonies is the #14, "Ararat," from Old Testament fame. The three movements are simply titled I, II, and III. Nothing else. Very odd, indeed
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Symphonies Nos. 4 20 & 53
Symphonies Nos. 4 20 & 53 by Alan Hovhaness (Audio CD - 2005)


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