July 2013  Pianist Nicola Giosmin Records Landmark Hovhaness Piano Sonata Cycle

The most significant Hovhaness offering so far this century has come to us from an unlikely place, not America as one might expect but Paris, where young Italian pianist Nicola Giosmin is currently based.

Without the usual concerns of a recording contract, remuneration or renown, Giosmin humbly set about honouring the composer's legacy in the best possible way he could, by recording every Hovhaness piano sonata and sonatina he could lay his hands on, spurred on only by a desire to bring the music he so admired to a wider audience. In several cases this meant some detective work in tracking down unrecorded or hard-to-find scores from both the composer's formative and twilight years, some of which were obtainable only from the composer's estate.

The first fruits of this intense labour began to appear, appropriately enough, in the composer's centennial year of 2011 (a year which otherwise witnessed a dearth of newly recorded material). With the first two volumes alone Giosmin had already made the world premiere recordings of five sonatas, thus filling a gaping (and somewhat puzzling) hole in the Hovhaness recordings archive.

The Hovhaness piano discography has of course benefited from the talents of several stellar pianists over the years — Maro Ajemian and William Masselos in the mid-20th century, and in recent decades Keith Jarrett and Sahan Arzruni — but Nicola Giosmin's enthusiasm, not to mention stamina, have brought forth at a single stroke more Hovhaness repertoire than any previous pianist undertook over the course of an entire career. We therefore asked Giosmin for the background to what is, even in the annals of the vast Hovhaness discography, a truly landmark recording project — that interview can be read here.

To date the musical feast amounts to six CDs or volumes (with individually-downloadable tracks) comprising some five hours of music. The tally of premiere commercial recordings currently runs to six piano sonatas (Catamount, Cougar Mountain, Journey to Arcturus, Mount Belknap, On the Long Total Eclipse of the Moon, and Sonata Op.399), plus the first complete recording of the Lake of Van sonata. This will rise to nine premiere recordings when the final 7th volume is released, completing Giosmin's comprehensive survey of Hovhaness's surviving sonatas and sonatinas for solo piano. Below we list each existing volume's tracks, together with a selection of audio clips.

Complete Sonatas and Sonatinas for Piano
TAUKAY 142-147 • Timing 4h:59m:29s D|D|D

"The originality of his writing ...
his pure spirituality, his complete detachment from the Avant-gardes, and his isolation in his search for “his own” music make Alan Hovhaness one of the most important outsiders of the 20th century: in a period of academi- cism and institutionalisation of contemporary music, he is vital."


In Summary...

Giosmin has honoured Hovhaness in the best possible way, in focusing on a cycle of complete sonatas his accomplishment is twofold: he has rescued from obscurity unknown works by a major American composer, and simultaneously illustrated just how multi-faceted Hovhaness's piano writing is. There is music here awaiting pianists of diverse stylistic persuasions, and from a technical standpoint there is material suited to students, advanced students and professional recitalists alike.

In some of the more familiar pieces, some dynamics and tempi differ markedly from existing recordings that we have become used to, but in Giosmin's hands it all works and serves to highlight the fact that Hovhaness's often minimalist score markings can leave doors open to as yet unfamiliar approaches that still remain faithful to the music's essence.

The sheer eclecticism of Hovhaness's piano writing — traversing everything from Western fugue and sonata forms to Eastern idioms such as jhala and gamelan — demands a pianist unshackled from the egocentric tyranny of imposing one's own personality onto the music and who instead serves as a sympathetic conduit through which Hovhaness's poetical, improvisatory, mystical and ethnic streaks can speak as unfettered as they need to. Giosmin rises to the occasion and there's no doubting his commitment to the music (he has even spoken of extensive background research as preparation).

In conclusion, Giosmin has delivered an extraordinary tour de force of both pianism and musical detective work. The six (eventually nine) premiere recordings alone make this an essential acquisition for Hovhaness fans, those with an interest in 20th century American piano music and also musical institutions. As for the curious and latecomers to Hovhaness: there is plenty to dip into and explore, so don't hesitate!


Complete Sonatas and Sonatinas   Volume 1

1-3 Sonata Ricercare  Op.12 (1935) 8:10
4-9 Sonata: Catamount  Op.345 (1980)
1st recording
10-13 Piano Sonata  Op.399 (1986) 1st recording 10:38
14-17 Sonata: Cougar Mountain  Op.390 (1985)
1st recording
18-20 Piano Sonatina  Op.120 (1962) 8:30

Complete Sonatas and Sonatinas   Volume 2

1-3 Bardo Sonata  Op.192 (1959) 11:35  
4-7 Sonata: Mount Ossipee  Op.299 No.2 (1977) 5:13
8-13 Sonata: Journey to Arcturus  Op.354 (1981)
1st recording
14-16 Sonata: Mount Belknap  Op.299 No.1 (1977)
1st recording

Complete Sonatas and Sonatinas   Volume 3

1-3 Sonata: Prospect Hill  Op.346 (1980) 7:20
4-7 Sonata: Fred the Cat  Op.301 (1977) 7:40  
8-13 Sonata: To Hiroshige's Cat  Op.366 (1982) 17:41
14-18 Sonata: Fujita's Sleeping Cat  Op.368 (1977) 11:38  
19-20 Sonatina: Meditation on Mt. Monadnock  Op.288 (77) 5:50

Complete Sonatas and Sonatinas   Volume 4

1-3 Sonata: Blue Job Mountain  Op.340 (1979) 12:11
4-9 Sonata: On the Long Total Eclipse of the Moon   Op.367 (1982) 1st recording 25:03
10-12 Piano Sonata  Op.145 (1956) 9:57
13-15 Sonata: Lake of Van  Op.175 (1959)
1st complete recording

Complete Sonatas and Sonatinas   Volume 5

1-3 Madras Sonata  Op.176 (1947/51/59) 10:55  
4-7 Sonata Ananda  Op.303 (1977) 19:28
8-11 Sonata: Mount Kathadin  Op.405 (1987) 13:13  

Complete Sonatas and Sonatinas   Volume 6

1-3 Sonata: Mount Chocorua  Op.335 (1982) 26:48
4-5 Poseidon Sonata  Op.191 (1957) 20:11  

Complete Sonatas and Sonatinas   Volume 7

1-3 Sonata: Mount Shasta  Op.299 No.3 (1982) 15:18  
4-8 Sonata: Lake Sammamish  Op.369 (1982) 17:58  
9-11 Sonata   Op.22 (1938, later withdrawn) 27:08  
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