Hovhaness: Mysterious Mountain (Symphony No. 2); Prayer of St Gregory; Prelude and Quadruple Fugue; And God Created Great Whales; Alleluia and Fugue; Celestial Fantasy

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COMPOSERS: Hovhaness
LABELS: Delos
WORKS: Mysterious Mountain (Symphony No. 2); Prayer of St Gregory; Prelude and Quadruple Fugue; And God Created Great Whales; Alleluia and Fugue; Celestial Fantasy
PERFORMER: Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
CATALOGUE NO: DE 3157 DDD
‘To me, atonality is against nature. There is a centre to everything that exists. The planets have the sun, the moon, the earth.’ Pretentious? Probably, Honest? Perhaps. The American Alan Hovhaness (born 1911) has, to date, written over 60 symphonies and several hundred other works.

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As you might expect, his musical style is fairly consistent: unashamedly lush textures, tonal harmonies with frequent modal inflections, straightforward formal designs and a strong interest in oriental music and philosophy. His uncluttered orchestral scores have something in common with a later generation of spiritually-aware composers (Tavener, Górecki et al) but he is far more interested in neo-Baroque counterpoint than most.

The key elements of his style are present in Mysterious Mountain, premiered by Stokowski in 1955. Hovhaness’s idea of ‘mystery’ sounds perhaps too much like the Vaughan Williams of the Tallis Fantasia, but it has a certain austere beauty none the less.

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The rest of the disc is devoted to some of his better (and better known) works, of which And God Created Great Whales is the most original: it includes four recorded songs of the humpback whale. ThePrayer of St Gregory, for trumpet and strings, is also curiously haunting. Throughout, Gerard Schwarz does his best to convince us of the power of this simple music. Stephen Maddock