January 2009  Centaur releases premiere recordings of Hovhaness orchestral exotica

Visions of the East - Music of Alan Hovhaness
Frost Symphony Orchestra, University of Miami, conducted by Chung Park Centaur CRC 2954 | 58" | DDD

1. Ode to the Temple of Sound (1965) [11:57]
    world premiere recording

    Symphony No.10 'Vahaken' [18:55]
2. I: Andante - Allegro [5:44]
3. II: Intermezzo (Allegro) [3:10]
4. III: Andante - Allegro [10:01]
    world premiere recording

5. Floating World (Ukiyo) (1964) [12:37]
    first complete recording

6. Meditation on Zeami (1963) [14:31]
    world premiere recording

Listen to mp3 audio clips:
• Ode to the Temple of Sound audio clip
• Vahaken Symphony audio clip
• Floating World audio clip
• Meditation on Zeami audio clip
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This is the second all-Hovhaness disc from independent label Centaur, and is the brainchild of the young, Korean-born conductor Chung Park, whom the composer Steve Reich recently described as “revelatory ... a young conductor to keep an ear and eye on”. For his debut CD, Park showcases almost completely-forgotten Hovhaness works – some are unlikely to have been heard publicly in over a quarter of a century. All are first recordings except for Floating World, which appeared in slightly incomplete form on a 1970s Columbia Masterworks LP under Andre Kostelanetz, but here finally appears in a digital recording, and fully intact.

The CD's title Visions of the East alludes to the overtly Japanese and Indian idioms that generate these works, and which were the composer's stylistic modus operandi of the early-to-mid 1960s. This disc certainly lays to rest the myth sometimes propagated that Hovhaness' music was all hued by Armenian liturgical or folk influences; in fact, he had already moved on by the mid-1950s. These recorded works are responses to the composer's extended trips to locations such as Bombay, Madras, Tokyo, Seoul and Hawaii, and show his orchestral writing at its most radically non-Western. The classical Indian currents that pervade the Vahaken symphony (misleadingly catalogued as No.10) show a composer at ease with just melody – and a little rhythm – to generate an entire extended work, whilst the clear musical template for works such as Floating World and Zeami is the Gagaku court music of ancient Japan. It was perhaps inevitable that as Hovhaness learned Gagaku instruments when in Tokyo, he would incorporate their idioms into his works.

What, then, can the listener expect to hear from such an unlikely musical melting pot? Whilst these evocative works are anything but rehashes of his celebrated Mysterious Mountain, there is much of interest for admirers of that work – as ever, the composer retains his transparent, shimmering textures and graceful melodic lines, albeit with much bolder exotic strokes and little-to-no Western rhetoric. In the sonoristic tone poems Ode, Floating World and Zeami Hovhaness employs, to great effect, his apocalyptic orchestral whirlwinds of "controlled chaos" - a nice musical analogy to his Japanese subject matter. Listeners may momentarily be reminded of Messiaen in pentatonic mode (think Turangalila Symphony), but this is very much Hovhaness' personal response to Eastern music, something which he investigated with a sense of wonder and humility a long time before serious composers were 'sanctioned' to do so by the university World Music curriculum.

This important disc documents Hovhaness's astonishing ability to reinvent himself musically, and yet sound unmistakably as only he could. Hovhaness afficionados will pick up these long-overdue premiere recordings as a matter of course, but those Mysterious Mountain lovers who keep much of his other music at arm's length will find plenty here to please and surprise in equal measure.

More reviews of this disc can be found at MusicWeb International and Classics Today

Web links

Centaur Records
Chung Park

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