September 2007: Music for Horn, Voice, and Strings

This is the first all-Hovhaness CD from US independent label Centaur, and features five works, three in their world premiere recordings

  • Artik Concerto for Horn and String Orchestra, Op.78

  • Psalm and Fugue No.2 for Four Horns
    First recording

  • Concerto No.3 'Diran' (The Religious Singer) Op.94 First recording

  • Chahagir (Torch Bearer) for solo viola, Op.56 No.1

  • Angelic Song (Cantata for Voice, Horn, and String Orchestra) Op.19 First recording

Robin Dauer, horn; Suzanne Banister, soprano; Karen Griebling, viola; The Hendrix College Chamber Orchestra, Karen Griebling, conductor

Order from (US)
Order from Amazon UK (UK)
Order from Centaur Records

This enterprising recording was underwritten by a grant from the Odyssey Program of Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. So firstly, kudos to Dr. Karen Griebling (pictured), composer, Professor of Music at Hendrix College, and as conductor, viola soloist and author of the informative booklet notes, clearly the driving force behind this disc. No fast-paced or turbulent pieces were chosen for this carefully-planned program ... instead (to quote the press release) "five spiritually conceived works" that show the more mellow side of early Hovhaness.

The works date mostly from Hovhaness' Armenian period, specifically using what he called his "contrapuntal, harmonic, modal style" of the time, as opposed to the non-harmonic linear style of those other Armenian-period works like Lousadzak. Hovhaness's use of solo horn (as with trumpet) is very lyrical, rather like that of priest or cantor in church liturgy, thus both the instrumental Artik and Diran are overtly religious in nature.

Artik opens the disc, and is an 8-movement concerto for horn and strings, although its all-pervading serenity soon demolishes any traditional notion of antagonism between soloist and tutti. As Karen Griebling points out in her perceptive notes, the work "exemplifies 'call-and-response' structures, with the horn singing out the calls and the string choir responding with motets". Robin Dauer (Arkansas State University French Horn Professor) undertakes Artik's beautiful solo horn part with appropriate sensitivity and warmth.

What momentarily appears to be a 9th movement of Artik (due to a mere 7-second pause between Artik's end and the next horn sound) is in fact the start of Psalm and Fugue No.2. This hitherto unknown Hovhaness work for horn quartet may have been composed in just one day for the horn player Morris Secon (its dedicatee) after Hovhaness had seen him perform Artik the previous day at the Eastman School of Music in 1954. For this premiere recording, Robin Dauer plays all four horn parts.

The second premiere recording on this disc is Concerto No.3, subtitled 'Diran the Religious Singer' after Diran Dinjian, chief singer at the Watertown, MA church where Hovhaness was organist in the early 1940s. This three-movement work is scored for either baritone horn or trombone and strings. As in Artik the writing is restrained and lyrical.

We then unexpectedly switch to the sound of the solo viola. Hovhaness' Chahagir is given a committed performance by Karen Griebling, for whom the work's considerable double-stopping presents no problems. An unfortunate typographical oversight is that on the booklet's track listing Chagahir is indented too far in, giving an impression that it is the fourth movement of Concerto No.3, rather than a completely separate work.

Angelic Song is a quarter-hour cantata for soprano (or tenor), horn and strings from 1948. Those familiar with Hovhaness' contemporaneous cantata Avak the Healer, will be familiar with the overall style and mood. Vocal duties are undertaken by Suzanne Banister (Hendrix Adjunct Faculty Soprano), and if the Hendrix College strings sound slightly ill-at-ease in a couple of places here, it is nothing to spoil the overall enjoyment, nor detract from the importance of having this work committed to disc - some 60 years after it was written!

Not only is this disc a welcome addition to the Hovhaness recorded legacy but, with the composer's centenary fast approaching (2011), also a timely reminder to any enterprising labels out there that there are many more Hovhaness works still awaiting their first recording.

Order from     Order from Amazon UK     Order from Centaur Records

Visit ClassicsOnline and find the widest spectrum of recorded classical music available for download!