Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

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jbuck919
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Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Aug 07, 2017 6:15 am

Thanks to one of our members, who knows who he is, who posted this on Facebook. There is a maxim (well, someone wrote it in something I read once so it must be a maxim :) ) that a forgotten piece can never be revived. I actually heard a live performance of Sessions's Second Symphony, which is excellent. Also, the pic of George Crumb, while unflattering, is realistic. One of my fellow grad students did his undergrad work at the University of Pennsylvania. He told me once that no matter what the topic of the course was supposed to be, Crumb spent the entire semester playing through the Well-Tempered Clavier with a cigarette dangling from his lips.

http://blogs.wfmt.com/offmic/2015/07/15 ... terpieces/

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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by Heck148 » Mon Aug 07, 2017 8:26 am

Quite a good list, Mr. Slatkin has ID'd some fine works that are deserving of more exposure.

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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by maestrob » Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:13 pm

Agree. Mysterious Mountain, however, got one recording by Reiner/Chicago and another by Stokowski, and when searched for on amazon pulls up 30 pages, so I'd hardly call it a neglected piece of music. Ruggles's Suntreader is quite good and currently appears on 5 CDs on amazon, but I've never heard it live. The others are all good music, but I'd hardly call them masterpieces on the level of Copland's symphonies, for example.

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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by karlhenning » Sat Aug 12, 2017 9:10 pm

maestrob wrote:
Mon Aug 07, 2017 12:13 pm
Agree. Mysterious Mountain, however, got one recording by Reiner/Chicago and another by Stokowski, and when searched for on amazon pulls up 30 pages, so I'd hardly call it a neglected piece of music.
I accepted the challenge; and the search does read "1-12 of 30 results"; so the first objection is, 30 results is not 30 pages.

Of those 12 results, 3 refer to the same Reiner recording; 2 refer to one Schwarz recording with Seattle, and 2 to another Schwarz recording with the Liverpudlians; 2 refer to one DRD recording. That is, 9 of the 12 results refer to a total of 4 actual recordings. So "30 results" is not 30 recordings, either.

All (absolutely all) of the remaining 18 results are redundant references to recordings listed in the first 12 results.

The second point is that the article says "forgotten masterpieces," not "neglected." You nudged the goal-posts a little, there.

A genuinely neglected masterpiece by Hovhaness would be (e.g.) the Symphony for Metal Orchestra, Op.203.

Mysterious Mountain, though, has been forgotten. It enjoyed more of a celebrity honeymoon than many another piece, but it has not become standard rep, either.

Cheers,
~k.

PS/ I'd normally really like to refine my typography with italics, &c. but the new website makes it harder than necessary, so I just ain't bothering.
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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by maestrob » Mon Aug 14, 2017 1:41 pm

OK, I typed "pages" when I should have said "selections. :oops: But, as the recording from 1997 below shows, Hovhanness has not been completely forgotten.....

Image

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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by karlhenning » Tue Aug 15, 2017 4:18 am

Well, we all make the odd typo, of course.

You'll forgive my pressing the cause of the Loyal Opposition here, dear fellow . . . you say "has not been forgotten," but 1997 is 20 years gone ; )

Cheers,
~k.
Karl Henning, PhD
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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by jserraglio » Tue Aug 15, 2017 5:45 am

I count eight recordings of MM by seven significant conductors, all made in the last century. Schwarz took two of the eight bows. A cursory glance at YT turns up at least three recent performances by youth orchestras, so maybe that's where this beautiful work is most likely to be programmed in our century.



Recordings of Mysterious Mountain http://www.hovhaness.com/hovhaness-myst ... ntain.html

INTRODUCTION

There are eight distinct recordings of Mysterious Mountain commercially available, 7 studio recordings and a live Stokowski performance released in 2008 as an historical document. Fritz Reiner's 1958 recording was not only an exceptionally fine reading but the only one available for 3 decades, two facts inevitably contributing to its status amongst Hovhanophiles as the Mysterious Mountain benchmark recording. This impression has remained despite the 1990s seeing top-notch orchestras, such as the Dallas Symphony and London Symphony Orchestra, recording the work with all the benefits of digital audio. The main consideration here is musical rather than technological - specifically that of tempo. Even though the moniker Hovhaness gave his symphony was an afterthought, it was presumably no arbitrary choice. Capturing the essence of this work lies, as in so much of Hovhaness's music, beyond mere accurate execution of the notes as they appear in the score. Hovhaness wrote of mountains as "symbolic meeting places between the mundane and spiritual worlds". Thus, if a conductor is to convey the true essence of Mysterious Mountain, an aura of mystery and transcendence must effuse from Hovhaness's score. Modern recordings of the work almost invariably take the outer movements too fast to be able to achieve this easily. This does not mean that they are technically wrong, for Hovhaness provides somewhat ambiguous tempo markings of "Andante" or "Andante espressivo" rather than exact beats per minute, but their hurriedness extinguishes any real prospect of otherworldly candescence that the work holds within. Nevertheless many are fine performances, with the added bonus of appearing on all-Hovhaness discs (which RCA's Reiner recording never could) as well as offering the sonic depth which only a digitally realised recording can offer.

It is worth mentioning that in September 1957 Stokowski submitted a shortlist of recording projects to Capitol Records, which included an all-American disc coupling Hovhaness's Mysterious Mountain with Charles Griffes The White Peacock. This project was likely aborted following Fritz Reiner's RCA premiere recording in April 1958. Thus for all his numerous Hovhaness commissions, live broadcasts and concert performances, Stokowski never went into the studio to commercially record any works of Hovhaness, despite being his most visible champion.

The recording industry seems to have properly discovered Mysterious Mountain only in the mid-1990s. Following a 1994 Delos label recording, a spate of recordings followed, comprising an RCA Reiner reissue in 1995, Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony in 1996, and two further recordings in 1997 (John Williams with the London Symphony and Jesus López-Cobos with the Cincinnati Symphony).

Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Fritz Reiner

According to most Hovhanophiles, the first and best recording of the work. From his Chicago players, Reiner conjures up a majestic peak, glistening water streams and a serene state of mind. Although he takes a few liberties with the score (such as a daringly fast second fugue), his lush and effervescent reading works magnificently and has become the work's definitive performance; one Amazon reviewer put it thus: "This recording is transcendent ... the title of the piece is MYSTERIOUS Mountain, and on this recording that is precisely what we get".

Hovhaness was little-known when this high profile recording appeared, which may have been in response to consistently laudatory concert reviews, such as those in Cleveland just 4 months previously, which probably added to the initial buzz begun by Stokowski's performances. Hovhaness apparently knew nothing of this release until its appearance in record stores, coupled with Stravinsky's ballet The Fairy's Kiss, which was programmed on the B-side. Thus RCA definitely saw the Hovhaness work as the main attraction, even commissioning special mountain cover artwork from Robert M. Jones.

RCA made a faithful transfer to CD for the re-issue. Re-mastering was apparently handled by John Pfeiffer, the engineer on the original 1958 recording, and the tape master was transferred from the original analog recording equipment, which had to be somewhat rebuilt. Tape hiss remains audible on the digital reissue, no doubt a decision to avoid all 'post-transfer' noise reduction so as to preserve as much of the original performance detail as possible. But such is the strength of Reiner's 1958 reading that it has held its own against all later digital-era recordings.

American Composers Orchestra / Dennis Russell Davies

This was Mysterious Mountain's second commercial recording, and is a re-issue of a 1989 MusicMasters disc notable at the time for featuring jazz pianist Keith Jarrett performing Hovhaness's 1944 piano concerto Lousadzak. This Mysterious Mountain falls short of Reiner's 1958 reading in conveying the work's more expressive qualities. This is due mainly to upbeat tempos in the outer movements, inevitably jettisoning some of the mysteriousness alluded to in the work's title. The first movement alone clocks in at just over 5 minutes, shaving over two minutes off Reiner's timing. That said, the playing of the American Composers Orchestra is admirable throughout the disc.

Aside from the Hovhaness Lousadzak piano concerto (one of his best works and a greatly original contribution to the American piano literature), the disc includes the Elegiac Symphony No.2 of Lou Harrison, a lifelong friend and associate of Hovhaness. Like the Hovhaness, Harrison's 34-minute symphony is a deeply-felt amalgam of the technical and spiritual, and so makes for an especially appropriate coupling.

Seattle Symphony / Gerard Schwarz

In 1993 the Delos label, a champion of American music, released its first Hovhaness disc, coupling the composer's 22nd and 50th symphonies. This became something of a 'hit' due mainly to No. 50's riotous evocation of 1980's Mount St. Helens volcano eruption in Washington State, a force of nature Hovhaness was able to witness from his Seattle home. In 1994 followed Delos's second release of Hovhaness works, although none featured as premiere recordings. Mysterious Mountain is the disc's opener.

Schwarz takes the first movement at a vigorous pace (5:58), although not as fast as others (cf. Davies above), and manages to draw out some nice climaxes from his Seattle Symphony players in the second and third movements, but ultimately this 'brisk ascent and descent' of the mountain does not entirely draw out the work's innate spirituality through discerning phrasing and nuances of tempo, an undertaking handled more successfully in Schwarz's 2002 recording with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (see below).

Other Hovhaness works here include And God Created Great Whales (featuring actual whalesong recordings), Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, Alleluia and Fugue and Celestial Fantasy, and the oft-recorded miniature Prayer of St. Gregory. For newcomers to Hovhaness this is a splendid and highly recommended selection of mostly early works to introduce the composer, if not the best acquisition for Mysterious Mountain or quantity of music (the disc lasts just under an hour). The Delos engineering is very good, with a particularly rich-sounding string section.

Seattle Symphony / Gerard Schwarz / 2-CD

The above Schwarz/Seattle Symphony recording reappeared in 1999 in this better valued "Delos Double" 2-CD set entitled Hovhaness Collection Volume 2, bringing together various Delos recordings of Hovhaness from the 1990s.

One still gets And God Created Great Whales, Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, Alleluia and Fugue and Celestial Fantasy, but additionally five other recordings issued by Delos on other all-Hovhaness discs, including two string quartets (Nos. 2 and 3 performed by the Shanghai Quartet), two symphonies (No.50 Mount st. Helens, and No.53 Star Dawn for band) plus the symphonic poem Meditation on Orpheus.

This collection's competitive price makes it a much better-value Hovhaness survey than the above single Schwarz/Delos disc, so although the recording of Mysterious Mountain is obviously the same, our above rating of three stars increases to four here.

Dallas Symphony / Andrew Litton

Released in April 1996, Litton's admirable reading of Mysterious Mountain is part of an anthology entitled An American Tapestry, comprising favourite pieces by American composers that don't include the usual suspects (Barber, Bernstein and Copland). The Dorian label's recording, made with the Dallas Symphony, is especially fine.

Litton is brisker and less dreamy than Reiner in the outer movements, clocking in at 17 minutes in total, versus Reiner's 19. In the central movement's tornado-like fugue, Litton's reading is at times indistinguishable from Reiner's, so for those seeking an equally exhilarating performance but with added digital clarity, this movement should not disappoint.

Other works featured are each American classics in their own right: William Schuman's New England Triptych, Ives's Three Places in New England, Walter Piston's The Incredible Flutist and Charles Tomlinson Griffes' The White Peacock. Needless to say, this disc is crammed from start to finish with American 'evergreens'.

London Symphony Orchestra / John Williams

This disc is named The Five Sacred Trees, after the NYPO-commissioned bassoon concerto of composer John Williams — the same John Williams renowned worldwide for countless film scores, including those for Star Wars and Indiana jones. Williams also conducts the London Symphony Orchestra throughout.

This appearance of Mysterious Mountain marked its third recording of the 1990s, and became the fifth one available in the catalog. Gramophone Magazine's reviewer appreciated "the easy flow of Williams's conception, not to mention the tenderness and warmth of the LSO's polished response". Williams's "easy flow" makes for some rather brisk tempi, with the symphony's total timing coming in at 16½ minutes.

Williams's own Five Sacred Trees — inspired by the five sacred trees of Celtic mythology — is what one would expect of a master film scorer: accessible, well orchestrated and instantly communicable. The theme of nature continues in Takemitsu's Tree Line, a characteristic Takemitsu essay in delicately hued orchestral sonorities. Sony's nature anthology ends with Tobias Picker's 1986 miniature Old and Lost Rivers.

Cincinnati Symphony / Jesus López-Cobos

Into the Light — Symphonic Expressions of the Spirit programs Mysterious Mountain with Strauss's Death and Transfiguration and three attractive but obscure works by Thomas Canning, Steve Rouse and Dave Brubeck (here in classical mode).

This is a straightforward reading of Mysterious Mountain with López-Cobos taking the outer movements faster than anyone else, but not so the central Double Fugue. In fact here the performance is in its element. Helped by good microphone placement, a not-too-hasty pace and probably Telarc's "proprietary 20-Bit digital Surround Sound", the frenetic second fugue radiates a contrapuntal lucidity that has never been bettered. In other recordings, lower strings are too distant or muffled to be heard on an equal footing with the violins and violas — this fugue was conceived for string quartet — but finally the cellos and basses are beautifully captured by Telarc, bringing into sharp focus the "four-voice canonic episodes and triple counterpoint episodes" of which Hovhaness tells us.

The disc's title is taken from Steve Rouse's Into the Light, an attractive, contemplative work whose material is derived from fish singing to him in a dream; not many pieces can claim that. Thomas Canning's Fantasy on a Hymn by Justin Morgan is just that — and will be appreciated by fans of Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia and Hovhaness's own Armenian Rhapsodies. Least spiritual on this disc, the Brubeck recording comprises three instrumental movements from his 1991 Joy in the Morning, a sort of oratorio showcasing a multi-faceted talent outside of his jazzman pigeon-holing — he was of course a pupil of Milhaud for 3 years.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / Gerard Schwarz

During his tenure at England's Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz made a second recording of Mysterious Mountain for a disc titled 'Mysterious Mountains' comprising three of Hovhaness's mountain-themed symphonies. Compared with his 1993 reading on Delos, this 2003 Telarc recording is at a more relaxed pace (19½ minutes versus 17) making it slightly longer than even Reiner's reading. The RLPO players thus have more opportunity than their Seattle counterparts to make the piece breathe. The first movement here is the orchestra's read-through of music with which they had no prior familiarity — there was no second take! This is overall a credit to the calibre of this orchestra but does result in some minor slips.

Telarc's state-of-the-art Direct Stream Digital recording here makes its debut. Beautifully defined colours come to the fore (as in the first movement's celesta arabesques) and yet the rapid contrapuntal writing of the central movement sounds surprisingly muddy for "new and improved 2.8224 MHz digital sampling". Yet Telarc succeeded magnificently here with López-Cobos.

Continuing this trinity of mountain-themed Hovhaness symphonies are the much later No.50 Mount St. Helens and No.66 Hymn to Glacier Peak, the latter being the aging composer's penultimate symphony and the least memorable of these three. Schwarz's earlier reading of No.50 (on the "Delos Double" listed above) has the edge over this one sonically and musically.

Hovhaness's symphonic odyssey spanned some 7 decades, and situated at the opposite end of his career to the very late Glacier Peak is the disc's closing work, the attractive miniature Storm on Mt. Wildcat. This is the composer's earliest acknowledged orchestral work, written in 1931 when he was 20. Programmatically it is essentially a truncated Night on the Bare Mountain, but the nod is to Sibelius, whose home in Fianland the young Hovhaness andhis wife would make a pilgrimage to some five years later.

Leopold Stokowski and His Orchestra

This live historical release comes from Cala Records and will be of great interest to Stokowski, Hovhaness and Vaughan Williams fans alike. Issued in association with The Leopold Stokowski Society, the concert commemorated the great man's 50th anniversary as a conductor and took place on 25th September 1958. It was typical of the enterprising Stokowski to program contemporary rather than standard repertoire for such an event.

The Stokowski performance of Mysterious Mountain is a treasure for Hovhaness aficionados, although other Hovhaness works conducted by Stokowski happily survive as radio broadcasts. Due to microphone positioning and the acoustic space there are moments in this performance, particularly in the second movement, when the brass rather drown out what the strings are up to, though overall this is a commendable performance by an orchestra comprising players no doubt hand-picked by Stokowski himself. As musicologist Walter Simmons has written, in Mysterious Mountain Stokowski "warrants respect as an authority", considering his long association with Hovhaness. He too takes the outer movements brisker than Reiner, but hardly violates the marking of Andante. Unfortunately no interview with Hovhaness survives clarifying his views on tempi for this work.

The programming of the Ninth Symphony of Vaughan Williams came about when Stokowski had learned of the composer's death. This especially fine performance of the work was also its US premiere. Of the disc's two remaining works, Paul Creston's attractive Toccata displays great rhythmic vitality, handled marvellously by Stokowski's band, but the similarly energetic New Dance of Wallingford Riegger gets a none-too-polished outing.

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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by lennygoran » Tue Aug 15, 2017 10:39 am

jserraglio wrote:
Tue Aug 15, 2017 5:45 am
I count eight recordings of MM
I decided to listen to this-I liked the lushness! So could you and others tell me what are considered his best symphonies-I see he did over 60-I have some of his works including #2 but haven't listened to any. Regards, Len

PS-I seem to have these as well-6, 13, 10, 28, 18, 25, 19

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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by jserraglio » Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:35 pm

If you look at the comments that follow Slatkin's article you will see some recommendations by music pros. Mine, fwiw, would be the Mt. St. Helens and St. Vartan symphonies.

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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by lennygoran » Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:45 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:35 pm
If you look at the comments that follow Slatkin's article you will see some recommendations by music pros. Mine, fwiw, would be the Mt. St. Helens and St. Vartan symphonies.
Thanks, the 50th and 9th-don't have them but that's easily rectified! Regards, Len :D

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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by karlhenning » Fri Aug 18, 2017 4:19 am

jserraglio wrote:
Tue Aug 15, 2017 5:45 am
I count eight recordings of MM by seven significant conductors, all made in the last century. Schwarz took two of the eight bows. A cursory glance at YT turns up at least three recent performances by youth orchestras, so maybe that's where this beautiful work is most likely to be programmed in our century.



Recordings of Mysterious Mountain http://www.hovhaness.com/hovhaness-myst ... ntain.html

INTRODUCTION

There are eight distinct recordings of Mysterious Mountain commercially available, 7 studio recordings and a live Stokowski performance released in 2008 as an historical document. Fritz Reiner's 1958 recording was not only an exceptionally fine reading but the only one available for 3 decades, two facts inevitably contributing to its status amongst Hovhanophiles as the Mysterious Mountain benchmark recording. This impression has remained despite the 1990s seeing top-notch orchestras, such as the Dallas Symphony and London Symphony Orchestra, recording the work with all the benefits of digital audio. The main consideration here is musical rather than technological - specifically that of tempo. Even though the moniker Hovhaness gave his symphony was an afterthought, it was presumably no arbitrary choice. Capturing the essence of this work lies, as in so much of Hovhaness's music, beyond mere accurate execution of the notes as they appear in the score. Hovhaness wrote of mountains as "symbolic meeting places between the mundane and spiritual worlds". Thus, if a conductor is to convey the true essence of Mysterious Mountain, an aura of mystery and transcendence must effuse from Hovhaness's score. Modern recordings of the work almost invariably take the outer movements too fast to be able to achieve this easily. This does not mean that they are technically wrong, for Hovhaness provides somewhat ambiguous tempo markings of "Andante" or "Andante espressivo" rather than exact beats per minute, but their hurriedness extinguishes any real prospect of otherworldly candescence that the work holds within. Nevertheless many are fine performances, with the added bonus of appearing on all-Hovhaness discs (which RCA's Reiner recording never could) as well as offering the sonic depth which only a digitally realised recording can offer.

It is worth mentioning that in September 1957 Stokowski submitted a shortlist of recording projects to Capitol Records, which included an all-American disc coupling Hovhaness's Mysterious Mountain with Charles Griffes The White Peacock. This project was likely aborted following Fritz Reiner's RCA premiere recording in April 1958. Thus for all his numerous Hovhaness commissions, live broadcasts and concert performances, Stokowski never went into the studio to commercially record any works of Hovhaness, despite being his most visible champion.

The recording industry seems to have properly discovered Mysterious Mountain only in the mid-1990s. Following a 1994 Delos label recording, a spate of recordings followed, comprising an RCA Reiner reissue in 1995, Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony in 1996, and two further recordings in 1997 (John Williams with the London Symphony and Jesus López-Cobos with the Cincinnati Symphony).

Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Fritz Reiner

According to most Hovhanophiles, the first and best recording of the work. From his Chicago players, Reiner conjures up a majestic peak, glistening water streams and a serene state of mind. Although he takes a few liberties with the score (such as a daringly fast second fugue), his lush and effervescent reading works magnificently and has become the work's definitive performance; one Amazon reviewer put it thus: "This recording is transcendent ... the title of the piece is MYSTERIOUS Mountain, and on this recording that is precisely what we get".

Hovhaness was little-known when this high profile recording appeared, which may have been in response to consistently laudatory concert reviews, such as those in Cleveland just 4 months previously, which probably added to the initial buzz begun by Stokowski's performances. Hovhaness apparently knew nothing of this release until its appearance in record stores, coupled with Stravinsky's ballet The Fairy's Kiss, which was programmed on the B-side. Thus RCA definitely saw the Hovhaness work as the main attraction, even commissioning special mountain cover artwork from Robert M. Jones.

RCA made a faithful transfer to CD for the re-issue. Re-mastering was apparently handled by John Pfeiffer, the engineer on the original 1958 recording, and the tape master was transferred from the original analog recording equipment, which had to be somewhat rebuilt. Tape hiss remains audible on the digital reissue, no doubt a decision to avoid all 'post-transfer' noise reduction so as to preserve as much of the original performance detail as possible. But such is the strength of Reiner's 1958 reading that it has held its own against all later digital-era recordings.

American Composers Orchestra / Dennis Russell Davies

This was Mysterious Mountain's second commercial recording, and is a re-issue of a 1989 MusicMasters disc notable at the time for featuring jazz pianist Keith Jarrett performing Hovhaness's 1944 piano concerto Lousadzak. This Mysterious Mountain falls short of Reiner's 1958 reading in conveying the work's more expressive qualities. This is due mainly to upbeat tempos in the outer movements, inevitably jettisoning some of the mysteriousness alluded to in the work's title. The first movement alone clocks in at just over 5 minutes, shaving over two minutes off Reiner's timing. That said, the playing of the American Composers Orchestra is admirable throughout the disc.

Aside from the Hovhaness Lousadzak piano concerto (one of his best works and a greatly original contribution to the American piano literature), the disc includes the Elegiac Symphony No.2 of Lou Harrison, a lifelong friend and associate of Hovhaness. Like the Hovhaness, Harrison's 34-minute symphony is a deeply-felt amalgam of the technical and spiritual, and so makes for an especially appropriate coupling.

Seattle Symphony / Gerard Schwarz

In 1993 the Delos label, a champion of American music, released its first Hovhaness disc, coupling the composer's 22nd and 50th symphonies. This became something of a 'hit' due mainly to No. 50's riotous evocation of 1980's Mount St. Helens volcano eruption in Washington State, a force of nature Hovhaness was able to witness from his Seattle home. In 1994 followed Delos's second release of Hovhaness works, although none featured as premiere recordings. Mysterious Mountain is the disc's opener.

Schwarz takes the first movement at a vigorous pace (5:58), although not as fast as others (cf. Davies above), and manages to draw out some nice climaxes from his Seattle Symphony players in the second and third movements, but ultimately this 'brisk ascent and descent' of the mountain does not entirely draw out the work's innate spirituality through discerning phrasing and nuances of tempo, an undertaking handled more successfully in Schwarz's 2002 recording with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (see below).

Other Hovhaness works here include And God Created Great Whales (featuring actual whalesong recordings), Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, Alleluia and Fugue and Celestial Fantasy, and the oft-recorded miniature Prayer of St. Gregory. For newcomers to Hovhaness this is a splendid and highly recommended selection of mostly early works to introduce the composer, if not the best acquisition for Mysterious Mountain or quantity of music (the disc lasts just under an hour). The Delos engineering is very good, with a particularly rich-sounding string section.

Seattle Symphony / Gerard Schwarz / 2-CD

The above Schwarz/Seattle Symphony recording reappeared in 1999 in this better valued "Delos Double" 2-CD set entitled Hovhaness Collection Volume 2, bringing together various Delos recordings of Hovhaness from the 1990s.

One still gets And God Created Great Whales, Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, Alleluia and Fugue and Celestial Fantasy, but additionally five other recordings issued by Delos on other all-Hovhaness discs, including two string quartets (Nos. 2 and 3 performed by the Shanghai Quartet), two symphonies (No.50 Mount st. Helens, and No.53 Star Dawn for band) plus the symphonic poem Meditation on Orpheus.

This collection's competitive price makes it a much better-value Hovhaness survey than the above single Schwarz/Delos disc, so although the recording of Mysterious Mountain is obviously the same, our above rating of three stars increases to four here.

Dallas Symphony / Andrew Litton

Released in April 1996, Litton's admirable reading of Mysterious Mountain is part of an anthology entitled An American Tapestry, comprising favourite pieces by American composers that don't include the usual suspects (Barber, Bernstein and Copland). The Dorian label's recording, made with the Dallas Symphony, is especially fine.

Litton is brisker and less dreamy than Reiner in the outer movements, clocking in at 17 minutes in total, versus Reiner's 19. In the central movement's tornado-like fugue, Litton's reading is at times indistinguishable from Reiner's, so for those seeking an equally exhilarating performance but with added digital clarity, this movement should not disappoint.

Other works featured are each American classics in their own right: William Schuman's New England Triptych, Ives's Three Places in New England, Walter Piston's The Incredible Flutist and Charles Tomlinson Griffes' The White Peacock. Needless to say, this disc is crammed from start to finish with American 'evergreens'.

London Symphony Orchestra / John Williams

This disc is named The Five Sacred Trees, after the NYPO-commissioned bassoon concerto of composer John Williams — the same John Williams renowned worldwide for countless film scores, including those for Star Wars and Indiana jones. Williams also conducts the London Symphony Orchestra throughout.

This appearance of Mysterious Mountain marked its third recording of the 1990s, and became the fifth one available in the catalog. Gramophone Magazine's reviewer appreciated "the easy flow of Williams's conception, not to mention the tenderness and warmth of the LSO's polished response". Williams's "easy flow" makes for some rather brisk tempi, with the symphony's total timing coming in at 16½ minutes.

Williams's own Five Sacred Trees — inspired by the five sacred trees of Celtic mythology — is what one would expect of a master film scorer: accessible, well orchestrated and instantly communicable. The theme of nature continues in Takemitsu's Tree Line, a characteristic Takemitsu essay in delicately hued orchestral sonorities. Sony's nature anthology ends with Tobias Picker's 1986 miniature Old and Lost Rivers.

Cincinnati Symphony / Jesus López-Cobos

Into the Light — Symphonic Expressions of the Spirit programs Mysterious Mountain with Strauss's Death and Transfiguration and three attractive but obscure works by Thomas Canning, Steve Rouse and Dave Brubeck (here in classical mode).

This is a straightforward reading of Mysterious Mountain with López-Cobos taking the outer movements faster than anyone else, but not so the central Double Fugue. In fact here the performance is in its element. Helped by good microphone placement, a not-too-hasty pace and probably Telarc's "proprietary 20-Bit digital Surround Sound", the frenetic second fugue radiates a contrapuntal lucidity that has never been bettered. In other recordings, lower strings are too distant or muffled to be heard on an equal footing with the violins and violas — this fugue was conceived for string quartet — but finally the cellos and basses are beautifully captured by Telarc, bringing into sharp focus the "four-voice canonic episodes and triple counterpoint episodes" of which Hovhaness tells us.

The disc's title is taken from Steve Rouse's Into the Light, an attractive, contemplative work whose material is derived from fish singing to him in a dream; not many pieces can claim that. Thomas Canning's Fantasy on a Hymn by Justin Morgan is just that — and will be appreciated by fans of Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia and Hovhaness's own Armenian Rhapsodies. Least spiritual on this disc, the Brubeck recording comprises three instrumental movements from his 1991 Joy in the Morning, a sort of oratorio showcasing a multi-faceted talent outside of his jazzman pigeon-holing — he was of course a pupil of Milhaud for 3 years.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / Gerard Schwarz

During his tenure at England's Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz made a second recording of Mysterious Mountain for a disc titled 'Mysterious Mountains' comprising three of Hovhaness's mountain-themed symphonies. Compared with his 1993 reading on Delos, this 2003 Telarc recording is at a more relaxed pace (19½ minutes versus 17) making it slightly longer than even Reiner's reading. The RLPO players thus have more opportunity than their Seattle counterparts to make the piece breathe. The first movement here is the orchestra's read-through of music with which they had no prior familiarity — there was no second take! This is overall a credit to the calibre of this orchestra but does result in some minor slips.

Telarc's state-of-the-art Direct Stream Digital recording here makes its debut. Beautifully defined colours come to the fore (as in the first movement's celesta arabesques) and yet the rapid contrapuntal writing of the central movement sounds surprisingly muddy for "new and improved 2.8224 MHz digital sampling". Yet Telarc succeeded magnificently here with López-Cobos.

Continuing this trinity of mountain-themed Hovhaness symphonies are the much later No.50 Mount St. Helens and No.66 Hymn to Glacier Peak, the latter being the aging composer's penultimate symphony and the least memorable of these three. Schwarz's earlier reading of No.50 (on the "Delos Double" listed above) has the edge over this one sonically and musically.

Hovhaness's symphonic odyssey spanned some 7 decades, and situated at the opposite end of his career to the very late Glacier Peak is the disc's closing work, the attractive miniature Storm on Mt. Wildcat. This is the composer's earliest acknowledged orchestral work, written in 1931 when he was 20. Programmatically it is essentially a truncated Night on the Bare Mountain, but the nod is to Sibelius, whose home in Fianland the young Hovhaness andhis wife would make a pilgrimage to some five years later.

Leopold Stokowski and His Orchestra

This live historical release comes from Cala Records and will be of great interest to Stokowski, Hovhaness and Vaughan Williams fans alike. Issued in association with The Leopold Stokowski Society, the concert commemorated the great man's 50th anniversary as a conductor and took place on 25th September 1958. It was typical of the enterprising Stokowski to program contemporary rather than standard repertoire for such an event.

The Stokowski performance of Mysterious Mountain is a treasure for Hovhaness aficionados, although other Hovhaness works conducted by Stokowski happily survive as radio broadcasts. Due to microphone positioning and the acoustic space there are moments in this performance, particularly in the second movement, when the brass rather drown out what the strings are up to, though overall this is a commendable performance by an orchestra comprising players no doubt hand-picked by Stokowski himself. As musicologist Walter Simmons has written, in Mysterious Mountain Stokowski "warrants respect as an authority", considering his long association with Hovhaness. He too takes the outer movements brisker than Reiner, but hardly violates the marking of Andante. Unfortunately no interview with Hovhaness survives clarifying his views on tempi for this work.

The programming of the Ninth Symphony of Vaughan Williams came about when Stokowski had learned of the composer's death. This especially fine performance of the work was also its US premiere. Of the disc's two remaining works, Paul Creston's attractive Toccata displays great rhythmic vitality, handled marvellously by Stokowski's band, but the similarly energetic New Dance of Wallingford Riegger gets a none-too-polished outing.
Thanks.

Cheers,
~k.
Karl Henning, PhD
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston, Massachusetts
http://members.tripod.com/~Karl_P_Henning/
http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
Published by Lux Nova Press
http://www.luxnova.com/

karlhenning
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Re: Leonard Slatkin’s 10 Forgotten American Masterpieces

Post by karlhenning » Sat Aug 19, 2017 9:48 am

More of My Favorite Hovhaness in addition to the Symphony for Metal Orchestra, Op.203:

Lousadzak, Op.48 (as mentioned)
Requiem and Resurrection, Op.224

These are all first-rate works, and (so far as I can tell) suffer only from a lamentable combination of general neglect, and a readiness to dismiss Hovhaness as “second-rate.”

Cheers,
~k.
Karl Henning, PhD
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston, Massachusetts
http://members.tripod.com/~Karl_P_Henning/
http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
Published by Lux Nova Press
http://www.luxnova.com/

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