Hovhaness: Concerto for two pianos and orchestra; Three pieces for two pianos; Lousadzak Concerto for piano and strings

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COMPOSERS: Hovhaness
LABELS: Black Box
ALBUM TITLE: Hovhaness
WORKS: Concerto for two pianos and orchestra; Three pieces for two pianos; Lousadzak Concerto for piano and strings
PERFORMER: Martin Berkofsky, Atakan Sari, Sergei Podobedou, Nikolai Zherenkou (pno), Globalis Symphony Orchestra, Konstantin Krimets
CATALOGUE NO: BBM 1103
Long before the terms ‘minimalism’ and ‘world music’ became familiar, the American composer Alan Hovhaness was writing simple, repetitive works drawing on elements of different musical cultures. The Concerto for two pianos – composed in 1954 but unperformed for fifty years – draws not only on the music of his ancestral Armenia, but also on Indian music and the Indonesian gamelan, as well as European chorales and the natural sounds of birdsong and thunder. The result is an attractive, persuasively shaped three-movement work. As a key to Hovhaness’s musical personality, though, it’s less important than the 1944 Lousadzak for piano and strings, with its Eastern emphasis on ornamented melody over a drone bass, and its almost complete absence of conventional harmony.

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The impressive American pianist Martin Berkofsky takes the lead in Lousadzak, after sharing the limelight with Atakan Sari in the Concerto and the more single-mindedly Armenian Mihr, and with Sergei Podobedov in two shorter duos. The orchestral strings sound somewhat grainy playing without vibrato in Lousadzak – not helped by the harder acoustic of a different Moscow studio from that used for the rest of the programme. Altogether, though, a must for Hovhaness fans, and for others a useful (if hardly economical) introduction to his distinctive sound-world. Anthony Burton