WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Mysterious Mountain); Symphony No. 50 (Mount St Helens); Symphony No. 66 (Hymn to Glacier Peak); Storm on Mount Wildcat
PERFORMER: Royal Liverpool PO/Gerard Schwarz
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80604
When it was new in 1955, Hovhaness’s Second Symphony, Mysterious Mountain, must have seemed remarkably fresh in its simplicity and serenity. But the prolific Armenian-American composer was to draw from this well many times, and his characteristic modal hymns, irregular metres, oriental-sounding melodies, static ostinatos and rough-hewn fugues occur equally in the last but one of his 67 symphonies, Hymn to Glacier Peak, and, with the addition of some filmic depiction of the eruption of Mount St Helens, in No. 50. Even Storm on Mount Wildcat, a tiny tone poem written when he was 20, is recognisable Hovhaness.
Under its new American music director, the RLPO plays with the heart and finesse that it regularly brings to the music of Vaughan Williams; and the Telarc engineers faithfully reproduce the somewhat bass-light sound of Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall, albeit with an uncomfortably wide dynamic range. However, there is awkward competition from Schwarz’s earlier recordings of Nos 2 and 50 with the Seattle Symphony, now in Vol. 2 of Delos’s mid-price Hovhaness Collection, in equally convincing interpretations and more rounded sound. Only real enthusiasts will want to pay Telarc’s premium price to gain one very early and one very late piece from Hovhaness’s long career. Anthony Burton