Hovhaness: Khaldis; Mount Katahdin; Fantasy, Op. 16

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COMPOSERS: Hovhaness
LABELS: Crystal
WORKS: Khaldis; Mount Katahdin; Fantasy, Op. 16
PERFORMER: Martin Berkofsky, Alan Hovhaness (piano), William Rohdin, Dan Cahn, Francis Bonny, Patrick Dougherty (trumpet), Neal Boyar (percussion)/Lawrence Sobol
The music of the Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness, who died in June aged 89, is a mixture of many influences from East and West, old and new, which, when it comes off, achieves a touching freshness and simplicity. But it is hardly represented to best advantage by this (not very generous) compilation. Hovhaness’s own account of his 1953 Fantasy, which alternates between so-called ‘ragas’ on the keyboard and Cowell-like percussive effects on the strings, is a domestic-sounding mono recording from about 1970, with some clumsy edits which have not been repaired in the remastering. The recording of the 1951 chamber concerto Khaldis dates from 1972, and its dry, airless acoustic does not enhance the trumpets’ modal canons and Renaissance-style canzonas, oddly juxtaposed with the piano’s quasi-Byzantine single-line chants and quasi-Indian rhythmic patterns. Only the 1987 sonata Mount Katahdin (named, though the patchy notes will not tell you this, after a mountain in the state of Maine) has been newly recorded; and after a promising opening of solemn chords in the manner of Hovhaness’s early Mysterious Mountain Symphony, this has little new to offer, tailing off into more apparently random juxtapositions of styles and textures. Despite the obvious faithfulness of the performances by Berkofsky and his colleagues, and the interest of the composer’s own recording, this disc is not one to be recommended as an introduction to Hovhaness’s music, and still less as an appropriate memorial to him. Anthony Burton