Hovhaness and Harrison Orchestral Music

This disc unites works by two distinctly original American composers who, while maintaining their own identities, share many similarities. To begin with, both men live on the West Coast: Alan Hovhaness in Seattle, Lou Harrison just outside Santa Cruz, California. This is more than an accident of geography: the Eastern seaboard has been the traditional centre of American musical life and both Hovhaness and Harrison are, to a degree, outsiders. They follow no leaders, lead no followers. Yet such is the appeal of their work that they have brought the musical mainstream to them rather than bending their aesthetics to public or professional taste ...


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"Two symphonies, one apiece, by West Coast Americans: Harrison, typically Californian with a wide-eyed receptivity to Pacific voices and Hovhaness, the Armenian mystic.

Mysterious Mountain is the second of Hovhaness's sixty-seven symphonies. The Symphony is a work of long lines, smoothly surging and singing. It carries a redolence of Vaughan Williams' Fifth Symphony. The massed string choirs are to the fore and the music serves as a great anthem rolling high - sanguine, benign and muscular. This is a symphony about exaltation and that is the effect and the aim. The last of its three movements opens with a suggestion of the spatter of ice-cold rain and a great vorticial storm high amid towering peaks. The brass are allowed a momentary prominence before the return of the Tallis-like writing.

Lousadzak is a single-movement piano concerto inspired by the Greek mystic painter, Hermon DiGiovanno. Here it is played by jazz composer-pianist Keith Jarrett. The style is very much that of the symphony. Here the massed strings also carry that middle-eastern sway and ululation. Elsewhere the music has the vigorous insistence of de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain. The premiere was attended by Harrison and John Cage who were stunned by the work's freshness and originality and its total sever from anything else on the American musical arts scene. The performance is all you would hope for except that towards the end the strings take on a coarse hard edge which I suspect is down to the orchestra rather than the sound engineer.

The Harrison connection takes us onto that composer's Elegiac Symphony. It was written in memory of Serge Koussevitsky and his wife Natalie. The essay by Tim Page is good.  So this makes a welcome return to the catalogue for the music of two West Coast outsiders with a predilection for the East, arcana and lyricism."  Rob Barnett, Musicweb-international.com

Lou Harrison's remarkable Second Symphony is an ideal coupling for the Hovhaness Second.  It creates the same feeling of space, only more intagibly, and its textures are comparably haunting. The work is superbly played, and stays in the memory long after the last two-note figure has become silent."  The Penguin Guide

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