HOVHANESS: Piano Music

HOVHANESS: Piano MusicSuite for Piano; Pastorale No.1; Two Ghazals; Hymn to a Celestial Musician; Achtamar; Child in the Garden; Twelve Armenian Folk Songs; Visionary Landscapes. Sahan Arzruni, piano. HEARTS OF SPACE HS11024-2 [ADD]; 57:06. Produced by Sahan Arzruni and Louise Simone. (Available from P.O. Box 31321, San Francisco, CA 94131)

Alan Hovhaness, possibly the most prolific composer of the twentieth century, has not neglected the piano as a focus for his incredibly creative fecundity. Indeed, his output of solo piano music alone must be approaching a hundred works by now, the year of his 80th birthday. Hence, the eight compositions offered on this CD, originally released on LP four years ago, account for a small, though representative, sample of his work for this instrument. The program consists of pieces composed roughly between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s.

Hovhaness’ writing for piano has consistently eschewed the massive sonorities, dense textures, and virtuosic cascades of scales and arpeggios that have characterized the literature for this instrument since the early 1800s. Instead, he has primarily attempted to evoke the pure, contemplative beauty found in much music of the mid- and far-east. The earlier pieces — Achtamar, for example — often emulate the sounds and instrumental techniques of Armenian dulcimers, while the later ones — Suite for Piano and Visionary Landscapes, for example — draw upon the sounds of Japanese, Indian, and Korean music. The main focus of the music is melody — modal and diatonic — often presented in simple canonic imitation or accompanied by atmospheric bell-like effects. This simplicity of presentation enhances its effectiveness, far more than the musically imperialistic morass of conventional textural density and rich chromatic harmony that often devours delicate and exotic material in less sensitive treatments. The listener who is well acquainted with Hovhaness’ output will note some familiar melodic material in these pieces, as the composer has never hesitated to re-use ideas in pieces for one medium that he has already used in music for another. So the Suite for Piano contains a melody also found in the orchestral piece, Fra Anqelico, while Two Ghazals is primarily based on material used in Floating World–Ukiyo.

Taken as a whole, this program is quite attractive, and will probably appeal readily to the listener who enjoys the radio program, “Music from the Hearts of Space,” or the piano pieces of Gurdjieff and de Hartmann. Pianist Sahan Arzruni, who has been associated with Hovhaness’ music for several decades, provides marvelously sensitive performances, imbuing works that are not in themselves especially imaginative in their treatment of the piano with a broad range of timbral richness and textural variety.