Hovhaness: Symphony No. 22 (City of Light); Exile Symphony; Bagatelle No. 1; Bagatelle No. 2; Bagatelle No. 3; Bagatelle No. 4; Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints; Prayer of St Gregory; String Quartet No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Hovhaness
LABELS: Delos
WORKS: Symphony No. 22 (City of Light); Exile Symphony; Bagatelle No. 1; Bagatelle No. 2; Bagatelle No. 3; Bagatelle No. 4; Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints; Prayer of St Gregory; String Quartet No. 4
PERFORMER: Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz, Alan Hovhaness; Shanghai Quartet, etc
CATALOGUE NO: DE 3700 Reissue
The music of the veteran American composer Alan Hovhaness has its fervent admirers, and it certainly inhabits a distinctive sound-world: strong, simple, modal harmonies, like those of the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia, are married with more exotic elements drawn from Hovhaness’s Armenian heritage, from the Far East and (more rarely) the avant-garde. But, on the evidence of this two-disc compilation from previous Delos releases, Hovhaness’s astonishing productivity is achieved at the cost of self-criticism: the folk-like melodies can all too often seem four-square and predictable, the chromatic decoration banal doodling, the technically proficient fugues simply note-spinning. Not even the skilful and ardent advocacy of the Seattle Symphony, beautifully recorded, can persuade me that there is any great substance to the City of Light Symphony (conducted by the composer), or much more than the picturesque about the early Exile Symphony or the Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints for marimba and orchestra. And yet there are pieces in Hovhaness’s output in which his essential innocence shines through to touching effect: like, here, the delicate, unpretentious Bagatelles, and the more extended Fourth Quartet, both played by the Shanghai String Quartet with surpassing sweetness. Anthony Burton

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