March 2012  From the Ends of the Earth: Premieres of little-known sacred Hovhaness on SACD

GloriŠ Dei Cantores Hovhaness Centennial Tribute Surveys Church Works

Over the years, the large Hovhaness discography has shed far more light on his orchestral and chamber works than his fairly substantial output for the human voice. Whereas the operas remain completely neglected, his short sacred choral works are regularly performed, so it's somewhat surprising that only now has a disc appeared dedicated entirely to them.

This welcome SA-CD was recorded by Gloriae Dei Cantores, on their own label, in February 2011, a few weeks prior to the composer's birth centenary. It offers almost 76 minutes of short choral works, nine in their first recordings and a further two previously recorded for privately-issued LPs that only die-hard Hovhanophiles are likely to have sought out. In total we have here 14 works spread over 19 tracks, of which 11 are commercially available for the first time.

The repertoire spans the 1940s to 1980s, although tracks are not ordered chronologically. There are no overt musical exoticisms or turbulent surprises to be heard here for those already familiar with such aspects of Hovhaness; if anything this survey shows that when it came to small-scale sacred works, he adhered to a more pragmatic mode of expression — this is essentially Hovhaness's Gebrauchsmusik for the church.

Review continues below tracklisting...

Alan Hovhaness — From the Ends of the Earth
Gloriæ Dei Cantores; Elizabeth C. Patterson, director
GDCD 0525 | 75:33 | DDD

= premiere recording
= first commercial recording


01 Cantate Domino (Psalm 98), Op. 385 7:26
02 Immortality, Op. 134 2:43
03 Unto Thee, O God, Op. 87, No. 2 1:36
04 Triptych: Ave Maria, Op. 100, No. 1a 3:30
Simple Mass, Op. 282
05 Prelude 2:21
06 Lord, Have Mercy 1:56
07 Glory to God 3:24
08 We Believe in One God 7:26
09 Holy 2:50
10 Lamb of God 3:51
11 From the End of the Earth, Op. 187 4:49
Three Motets, Op. 259
12 Peace Be Multiplied, Op. 259 No. 1 2:58
13 God Be Merciful Unto Us (Psalm 67), Op. 259 No. 2 5:27
14 Wisdom, Op. 259 No. 3 2:23
15 Hear My Prayer, O Lord (Psalm 143), Op. 149 3:47
16 I Will Rejoice in the Lord, Op. 42 6:32
17 Why Hast Thou Cast Us Off, Op. 87, No. 1 2:57
18 The God of Glory Thundereth, Op. 140 4:41
19   O Lord God of Hosts, Op. 27 4:51

...Continued from above

Some of the works are composed a capella, others include organ accompaniment, and a few feature vocal or instrumental soli. The vocal writing embodies the essence of Hovhaness: melodic, direct and transparent. It was precisely the widespread appeal of his short sacred works that many a time put "bread on the table" for Hovhaness. For example, one of the most exquisite works recorded here, From the End of the Earth, achieved sales of 5,620 copies according to the composer's 1976 royalty statement from publisher C.F. Peters.

It is hard to imagine a more committed group for Hovhaness than GloriŠ Dei Cantores ('Singers to the Glory of God'), an internationally-renowned choir that has performed on three continents and boasts more than forty recordings, comprising repertory from the medieval period up to the present. Although not especially demanding works for any top-notch choir to perform, the quality of the singing is extremely high, though the acoustic space could have been better for some pieces. Also high is the quality of the 32-page booklet. Lavishly illustrated with attractive background imagery, it contains an overview of Hovhaness's life and musical creed, brief discussion of the works performed, and usefully reproduces all sung texts. Two negatives are that some of the works chosen are far from Hovhaness's best examples in this genre, and the acoustic space lacks a resonance that may have served some of these pieces rather better.

It's as long ago as 1995 since the last all-vocal Hovhaness disc was released (courtesy of Delos) and one suspects that it is by design rather than chance that, apart from the 3-minute Peace be Multiplied (the first of a group of motets), there is no duplication of repertoire in this successor, so hats off to GloriŠ Dei Cantores and their musical director Elizabeth C. Patterson. This much-needed disc helps reduce a gaping hole in the Hovhaness discography, and should go some way to introduce these very accessible works to choirs and music lovers alike, especially outside of the United States, where they remain virtually unknown.

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