October 2011  BMOP label releases CD featuring early and late Hovhaness

New CD also includes Hovhaness student rarity from 1933

In May 2009 the Boston Modern Orchestra Project - America's leading orchestra promoting the music of the 20th and 21st centuries - gave a concert featuring four early Hovhaness works.  These were subsequently recorded, along with two more, to make a disc's worth of music.  Two years on, and in the composer's centennial year, this disc has finally seen the light of day and is issued as the 20th release in the orchestra's own BMOP/sound series of recordings.

The emphasis is on the composer's early mature works (Exile Symphony and the three Armenian Rhapsodies), but with the unlikely addition of the very late Concerto for Soprano Saxophone Strings of 1980, a work already recorded on a Centaur disc.  However, the real curiosity is an unpublished (and hitherto professionally unperformed) tone poem entitled Song of the Sea, which thus appears in its first recording.  Although Hovhaness discarded this 1933 piece of student juvenilia - and one therefore has to question whether he'd be happy with its appearance on a commercially released disc - he felt its thematic material strong enough to salvage for later works, and Hovhaness aficionados will recognise the main theme that went into both the piano piece Dance Ghazal and the much later Allegro Grazioso movement from Symphony No.22, City of Light.  A 1933 program showing the likely first performance of Song of the Sea, by students at the New England Conservatory, can be viewed at the gallery of our website.

(Review continues below)

Alan Hovhaness Orchestral Works
Boston Modern Orchestra Project / Gil Rose conductor
Kenneth Radnofsky, soprano saxophone / John McDonald, piano
BMOP/sound 1020 | 67:29 | DDD

1. Armenian Rhapsody No.1 Op.45  [5:35]
    Song of the Sea  FIRST RECORDING
2. I. Moderato espressivo [3:38]
3. II. Adagio espressivo [2:46]

4. Armenian Rhapsody No.2 Op.51  [8:55]

    Concerto for Soprano Saxophone
    and Strings
5. I. Andante; Fuga [5:55]
6. II. Adagio espressivo; Allegro [4:55]
7. III. Let the Living & Celestial Sing [6:23]

8. Armenian Rhapsody No.3 Op.189 [6:40]

    Symphony No.1 'Exile' Op.17 No.2
9.    I. Andante espressivo; Allegro [9:07]
10.  II. Grazioso [3:30]
11.  III. Finale: Andante; Presto [10:05]          



The Armenian Rhapsodies Nos. 1, 2, and 3 date from 1944 and are each scored for string orchestra.  Although their inspiration lies in the Armenian folk idiom, all contain original and richly melodic writing, the reason these attractive miniatures have been recorded several times before.  The Exile Symphony is the composer's earliest official offering in that genre, although this version's central movement differs from the original, which can be heard in a recording made by Stokowski.  The 'Exile' of the title recalls the plight of Armenians uprooted before and after the genocide of World War I, and moods of both fear and heroicism permeate the music of the surviving outer movements.  The distinctly light-weight Soprano Saxophone Concerto - from some 40 years later - complements the symphony, oozing plenty of tunefulness with Romantic overtones.

Performances throughout are very good, as is the recorded sound. Some of the finer contrapuntal nuances of the Armenian Rhapsodies shine through here, surpassing all previous recordings. BMOP/sound's detailed booklet notes are to be highly commended, with articles from pianist Sahan Arzruni and the composer's widow. But perhaps most illuminating of all is the transcript of an interview from the 1981 Cabrillo Festival, where Hovhaness is in discussion about his life and work with Dennis Russell Davies and Charles Amirkhanian.

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