PETTERSSON: Symphonies: No. 3; No. 4; No. 15. RUZICKA: The Blessed, the Accursed.

PETTERSSON: Symphonies: No. 3; No. 4. Alun Francis conducting the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra. cpo 999  223-2 [DDD]; 78:21. Produced by Burkhard Schmilgun, Matthias von Bausznern, and Markus Brandle.

PETTERSSON: Symphony No. 15. RUZICKA: The Blessed, the Accursed. Peter Ruzicka conducting the German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Berlin. cpo 999 095-2 [DDD]; 52:24. Produced by Wilhelm Matejka, Gunter Griewisch.

I offer my comments on Allan Pettersson (1911-1980) and these two new releases alongside those of Paul Rapoport, with humility and deference to his years of passionate devotion to this music. Rapoport’s eloquent advocacy reveals an intimate familiarity that I cannot approach. On the other hand, perhaps some observations from a less partisan perspective might complement my colleague’s comments and be of interest to those readers
who are themselves in more preliminary phases of involvement with Pettersson’s music. (I am sure that many readers who consider themselves devotees of symphonic music have never even heard a note of Pettersson’s.)

How would I describe this music to someone who has never heard it? Imagine that the ghost of Sibelius (as epitomized by the Fourth Symphony) met up with the ghost of Nielsen (as epitomized by the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies) and the ghost of Shostakovich (as epitomized by the Fourth Symphony) in a strange realm removed from mundane concerns. Imagine that they decided to collaborate on developing a kind of pure musical expression
of unprecedented honesty, intensity and power, as a means of addressing the tragedies of life. Imagine that they attempted to realize this goal through large, heaven-storming orchestral works that made no concessions to listener comfort, such as the use of classical forms or movement divisions, while relying on some semblance of motivic unity to sustain coherence. If you can imagine this, you may have some idea of what Pettersson is like.

I first encountered this remarkable music in 1972, when Antal Dorati’s recording of the Seventh Symphony suddenly thrust the Pettersson phenomenon upon the American classical music public. I was immediately aware of discovering something of tremendous importance, and began to acquaint myself with more of his work. His expression of the innocent, vulnerable human soul, battered by the cruel indifference of the cosmos, produced a
deep reverberation within me. But while all the music I heard left me awestruck by the intensity and sincerity of its conviction, I have found that it has not become part of my own repertoire for voluntary listening. Perhaps some might say that, like Gerontius, looked with horror into the face of God and cried, “Take me away!” On the other hand, perhaps it is simply that the concentration required by Pettersson’s vast symphonic leviathans is more taxing than what is comfortable for me. I suspect that this is the more likely explanation,
as I do not look to art for reassurance that all is well. But Pettersson’s long, single-movement structures, with their many shifts in energy level but with little metrical regularity, are like expansive speculative ruminations that absolutely require a patient receptiveness on the part of the listener. (It seems as though plumbing one’s own personal reactions like this is the only way to respond honestly to Pettersson — any pretense at detached, objective judgment is a transparent fraud.)

These new CDs are part of cpo’s complete cycle of the sixteen Pettersson symphonies (twenty years ago, who would have dreamed of such an eventuality?) and feature what I believe are first recordings of the Third and the Fifteenth Symphonies. The Third Symphony dates from 1954-55 and is definitely not the best initial entry point into Pettersson’s world. Of the symphonies I have heard, it is the most difficult to digest. Although nominally divided into four movements (one of only two of his symphonies with movement subdivisions), these
section divisions are not audibly apparent, through there are many shifts of tempo and motion. What taxes my concentration is the fact that much of is fragmentary and spare reflective rather than active, with sparse gestures mulled over at length.

I find the Fourth Symphony (1958-59) somewhat more accessible, although commentator Andreas K. W. Meyer seems to feel otherwise. Not only does there appear to be more activity in this later work, but there is also more expressive variety with moments of the poignant quasi-chorales that serve as something like emotional oases in Pettersson’s works. But perhaps the very frequency of these affective shifts might create difficulties for some
listeners. What struck me about both the Third and Fourth were the audible traces of composers like Nielsen, Sibelius, and Mahler (those ironic woodwind shrieks), which are much more fully digested in the later works with which I am more familiar (not that this is any sort of deficiency).

For a long time I have tried to determine the best symphony through which to introduce Pettersson, and the Fifteenth (1978) may be it. Its turbulence and massiveness are certainly overwhelming, but it is more forthright, less speculative and tentative, and seems to contain within it, well integrated, most of the elements that generally comprise the composer’s musical vocabulary. Meyer uses the word “harmonious,” while Ruzicka calls it “balanced,” and I would tend to agree.

I will leave it to my colleague to describe the relative merits and deficiencies of these performances. Suffice it to say that Pettersson demands at least as much of the musicians who perform his work as he does of the listeners who attempt to apprehend it. Many have contended that the requirements of the scores exceed normal capabilities and that the strenuous struggle of an ensemble to approach these specifications is part of the intended effect. Conductor Ruzicka addresses this issue in his comments on recording the Fifteenth Symphony. To my ears all three of these performances show both committed, diligent effort and severe strain. Regardless, no one who hears these recordings will fail to “get the idea.” Indeed, I can’t even imagine the notion of a Pettersson symphony played with the neatly polished, complacent indifference that has become the norm among today’s “world-class” orchestras.

The recording of the Fifteenth Symphony is filled out by German composer-conductor Peter Ruzicka’s own “Pettersson Requiem,” entitled …the Blessed, the Accursed, from one of the Swedish composer’s most famous quotations. Ruzicka composed the four orchestral sketches in 1991, using material from Pettersson’s own music and treating it in a somewhat similar, but more acerbic, harmonically unyielding, manner. It is an interesting addendum to the recording, but something of an anti-climax in this context.

As productions, these new releases show real dedication and commitment, with lengthy, detailed essays in three languages. Andreas Meyer’s annotations show knowledge, sympathetic understanding, and intelligence, though they — like the music — demand more than casual attention. Unfortunately biographical information on conductor Alun Francis was omitted from the English portion of the notes.

Pettersson is definitely not for everyone. Many will — and do — find his works too unrelievedly serious and too nebulous in structure. On the other hand, those who have fallen under its spell speak of this music with an extravagance engendered by few other composers (see commentaries by Ruzicka and Meyer if think Rapoport is an isolated eccentric). Pettersson’s works may be the ultimate manifestations of music as a vehicle for revealing the most profound struggles of the human soul unfettered by concessions to formal obligations extraneous to the essence of the expression. For the emotional courage and creative stamina to produce a body of such revelatory statements on such a grand scale, Pettersson commands attention and respect. His work must be confronted by anyone who seeks to grasp the expressive range of 20th-century symphonic music. 

FRANCK: Danse Lente. Prelude, Choral, et Fugue. BLOCH: In the Night . Sonata for Piano. GIANNINI: Variations on a Cantus Firmus. Prelude and Fughetta

CESAR FRANCK: Danse Lente. Prelude, Choral, et Fugue
ERNEST BLOCH: In the Night. Sonata for Piano
VITTORIO GIANNINI Variations on a Cantus Firmus. Prelude and Fughetta
Myron Silberstein, piano

This recital of music by Cesar Franck (1822-1890), Ernest Bloch (1880-1959), and Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) highlights fascinating biographical linkages and aesthetic affinities among composers that may otherwise appear to belong to different segments of the musical spectrum. One feature that the three share in common is a commitment to aesthetic ideals that transcended the fashions current within the milieus they inhabited. The creation of music was for each both an aesthetic and a spiritual expression of deep personal significance, placing them at times at odds with their respective publics, who were seeking more meretricious charms, and each paid the price of disparagement and neglect for adherence to their ideals. Another trait shared by all three is a multinational orientation rooted in their training, as well as in their own national origins. As a result, the music of each composer bridges several stylistic lineages associated with particular national traditions. And finally, there is some evidence of the actual influence of one composer upon another. Many of these points are illustrated by the music presented on this recital, in which each composer is represented by one major extended work and one of more modest scope.

Cesar Franck was born in Belgium of largely German descent, and lived most of his life in Paris, during a time when popular taste leaned toward salon trifles or grandiose operatic spectacles. Although his mature work displayed a typically French sensuality and ear for harmonic color, Franck attempted to embrace within this romantic sensibility abstract formal ideals from the classic Germanic tradition: a fondness for contrapuntal density derived from Bach, the disciplined thematic development of Beethoven, and even the chromatic
complexities of Wagnerian harmony. In addition, he refined a compositional principle, traceable chiefly to Beethoven, known as “cyclical form,” in which a signal motif recurs throughout a multi-movement work in a variety of different guises, as a means of providing both formal and psychological unity. 

Franck’s brief Danse Lente of 1885 shows the composer’s hand at a simple salon piece. But the Prelude, Choral, et Fugue composed the preceding year is a masterpiece, embodying all the elements described above. The improvisational quality of the opening Prelude recalls the style of Bach’s organ fantasias even as it evokes the strongly subjective sense of atmosphere associated with romantic music. The Prelude introduces the
downward-step motif that is the underlying root of the entire work. The Choral also suggests the organ, with its full chordal textures that seem to require the addition of a pedal keyboard. This section introduces one of Franck’s most haunting melodies, accompanied by a solemnly descending minor scale. The Choral leads directly into the Fugue, clearly based on the downward-step motif. As it unfolds, elements from the preceding sections are recalled, culminating in a dense contrapuntal apotheosis that achieves a sense of sensuo-spiritual ecstasy that is one of Franck’s particular claims to greatness.

The connection between Franck and Ernest Bloch is quite clear. Although Bloch was born in Geneva, he studied in Brussels under the guidance of Eugene Ysaye, who had been a close personal associate of Franck. Bloch’s stylistic development is directly traceable to this lineage, especially the merging of classic formal abstractions with an emphasis on sensuality and mood, in the service of the most serious emotional content. However, Bloch’s own volatile temperament led him to create music of a vehemence and intensity that would have
been inconceivable to his predecessors. In addition, Bloch sought to imbue some of his works (though neither of those presented here) with his own subjective interpretation of the Jewish soul. 

In the Night (subtitled “A Love-Poem”) dates from 1922, during an immensely productive period when Bloch also served as director of the Cleveland Institute of Music. It a highly evocative example of one of his favorite small genres: the nocturne, which in Bloch’s hands became a work of perfumed exoticism and mystery, featuring his own idiosyncratic adaptation of impressionist harmony.

Bloch composed his Sonata for Piano in 1935 during a sojourn in the French Alps. It is certainly his most important work for piano solo, and, along with the Concerto Symphonique and the String Quartet No. 2, is one of the most fully realized abstract works of his compositional maturity. Its three movements are tightly unified through several intervallic motifs, according to Franck’s “cyclical” principle. These are transformed in an
amazingly vivid progression of moods and emotional states that suggest a rather grim commentary on the human condition. The first movement, Maestoso ed energico, is actively turbulent and agitated, while the second, Pastorale, conjures an exotic nocturnal vision of luscious sensual languor not unlike In the Night, building to a tremendous climax. The third movement, Moderato alla marcia, suggests a savage rite among some primitive tribe of Bloch’s imagination, which eventually recedes into the distance. 

Vittorio Giannini was born in Philadelphia, studying in Milan as a child, then later in New York. The connection between him and the other composers discussed here is a little less obvious, because, unlike them, the Italian operatic tradition played a strong role in both his development and his output. Indeed, his early operas enjoyed considerable success in Europe during the pre-World War II years, even winning the praise of Richard Strauss. In 1939 Giannini settled in New York, joining the faculties of the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, and, later, the Curtis Institute as well. Shortly before his death, he was named president of the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Although Giannini wrote some fourteen operas and much other vocal music, his many symphonic and instrumental works (including an orchestral work entitledPrelude, Chorale, and Fugue) show the same integration of intense emotionality with classic abstract formal principles exhibited by Franck and Bloch. And, like both of them, Giannini was especially fond of imbuing Baroque forms with romantic warmth. This aspect of Giannini’s art comes
to the fore in the Variations on a Cantus Firmus, composed in 1947. In many ways this is the most deeply traditional work presented here: twenty-four variations on a solemn, chromatically descending ground bass in C minor, presented in two nearly-identical phrases. As the variations begin, one is immediately reminded of the gravity of the great contrapuntal masterpieces of the 17th and 18th centuries. However, as they further unfold, grouped into four distinct movements, they progress stylistically — again according to traditional variation
principle — from a highly conservative treatment, through more romantic and virtuosic elaborations. Giannini’s personality was always strongest in his slow, lyrical music, and in the second and fourth movement groups this element predominates, offering moments of the most touching and tender beauty. 

Prelude and Fughetta was composed during the late 1950s. During this period, Giannini sometimes cooled his torridly romantic style by devising themes based on the interval of the fourth. Nowhere is that practice more evident than in this brief piece, in which a single theme, derived almost entirely from that interval, forms the basis of both the prelude and the short fugue that follows.

PERSICHETTI: Concerto for English Horn and Strings. ROREM: Concerto for English Horn and Orchestra. HODKINSON: The Edge of the Olde One

PERSICHETTI: Concerto for English Horn and Strings. ROREM: Concerto for English Horn and Orchestra. HODKINSON: The Edge of the Olde One. Thomas Stacy, English Horn; Vincent Persichetti conducting String Orchestra of New York; Michael Palmer conducting the Rochester Philharmonic; Paul Phillips conducting the Eastman Musica Nova. NEW WORLD 80489-2 [ADD\1,3/?; DDD\2/?]; 71:22. Produced by Richard Gilbert, Elizabeth Ostrow, Sydney Hodkinson.

PERSICHETTI: Symphony No. 6. GREGSON: Celebration. MAW: American Games. SCHOENBERG: Theme and Variations. GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue. Eugene Corporon conducting Cincinnati Conservatory Wind Symphony; William Black, piano. KLAVIER KCD-11047 [DDD]; 74:16. Produced by Jack Stamp.

Fanciers of the English horn — are there many? — will certainly be interested in the New World disc, which features three substantial and stylistically diverse contributions to the instrument’s rather meager repertoire. Each was tailored specifically for Thomas Stacy, probably the instrument’s most celebrated virtuoso, and he performs each work splendidly. Only the Rorem work is newly recorded; the other two appeared on a Grenadilla LP issued in 1979, which I reviewed in Fanfare4:1 (pp. 178-30). The Persichetti concerto is a relatively late work, composed in 1977. The following year it won the prestigious Kennedy Center/Friedheim Award. As many late works are conventionally characterized, the concerto has a distinctly autumnal quality — not especially dissonant or abrasive, but cool, dry, and ruminative, resulting in a very low expressive profile, not unlike the relatively familiar Hollow Men for trumpet and strings. Persichetti was fond of re-working thematic material already explored in previous works. This was not a matter of self-aggrandizement, as it is with many composers, or of lazy mannerism, as it is with even more, but rather a key aspect of Persichetti’s remarkable compositional methodology, in which  cross-references among works create a whole sub-text of inter-relationships — a complex subject worthy of an entire doctoral dissertation. (In fact, most of the 25 Parables are commentaries on his previous compositions.) The English horn concerto re-works material that appeared earlier in two of Persichetti’s most important compositions, the Symphony No. 5 for strings (a masterpiece that may be heard on New World 80370-2) and The Creation (a large oratorio as-yet-unrecorded). However, as much as I love Persichetti’s music — and I do believe he is one of America’s greatest — I continue to find this a disappointingly pale and anemic work. Indeed — blasphemy though it may be — it is the least interesting piece on the disc.

The Rorem concerto was only just completed a couple of years ago and is temperamentally a far cry from the Persichetti. While the latter is austere, inward, and reflective, Rorem’s five-movement work has lots of surface appeal. The languorous sensuality of the opening movement immediately calls Samuel Barber to mind, as his later works — Essay No. 3, Fadograph of a Yestern Scene, for example — evoke a very similar sensibility — one that reappears throughout Rorem’s concerto. This deliciously rich, sultry quality is offset by more lithe, active sections, orchestrated with bright splashes of color. On the whole, it is a pleasantly entertaining work, but suggests little beneath the surface, and is not as tightly focused structurally and expressively as Barber’s music always is. This diffuseness may tend to cause one’s attention to wander. 

The Edge of the Olde One, by Canadian composer Sydney Hodkinson, was written the same year as the Persichetti, and exemplifies the sort of music considered fashionably avant-garde during the late 1970s — consistently atonal, with “expanded” instrumental techniques (such as multiphonics) , electronic manipulations, and so forth. Regular readers know that I am no of this sort of stuff, but I must say — as I said back in 1979 — “Hodkinson has created an intensely captivating and fascinating odyssey in sound — a true psychedelic experience, in the best sense of the word… [and] a coherent large-scale structure, exciting and satisfying as an integrated piece of art…” The work was inspired by the ramblings of the English Romantic poet John Clare, who had been declared insane at the time. According to Hodkinson, it is “an elaborate journey of the mind, a trip: often meandering, thorny and dense, that threads itself vaguely across the subconscious:… It is not unlike the eyes (of the lunatic?), constantly darting from image to cloudy image, from insanity to a super-saneness.” This is the sort of music that brought a fleeting prominence to such figures as Jacob Druckman. However, from today’s standpoint, the music that Druckman composed at that time seems important chiefly as a rejection of sterile, artistically irrelevant academic abstractedness, rather than a satisfying alternative. By contrast, the vividness, intensity, and structural coherence of Hodkinson work continues to compel attention.

The Klavier disc offers another installment in the valuable series of recordings featuring the Cincinnati College-Conservatory Wind Symphony under the direction of its ambitious conductor Eugene Corporon. With Persichetti Symphony No 6, we are addressing what is the sine qua non, the ne plus ultra of mid-century American band symphonies — and that was a period that saw a veritable flood of such works. As I have said many times before, Persichetti’s Sixth is neoclassicism’s answer to Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony — and in a mere 16 minutes! What more need be said? Just that it has been recorded twice by Frederick Fennell, who, of course, was the conductor ne plus ultra of mid-century American art music for band — once in 1959 (three years after it was written) with the Eastman Wind Ensemble (available on Mercury 432 754-2), then again in 1989 with the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra (Kosei KOCD-3101). Both performances are brilliant — similarly so — in conception, stupendous in execution, and breathtakingly recorded. This Cincinnati/Corporon performance is also excellent — very polished and meticulous, as are all the performances on this disc — but rather lacking excitement. The first movement Allegro is too relaxed and passive (sounds like the way today’s orchestras play the standard repertoire — embalmed); the poignant second movement lacks warmth and sensitivity; the third movement is too rushed; the fourth movement is fine. The sonic ambience has a dry deadness that I have noticed on other recordings in this series.

Both Edward Gregson and Nicholas Maw are English, but their pieces, written in 1990 and 1991, respectively, have a decidedly American flavor, at least to my American-oriented ears (the Maw is, of course, overtly American in concept), although neither uses vernacular materials. Actually, what they sound like is the sort of band music composed by the ream by American neoclassicists during the 1960s — a bracing and breezy Stravinsky-Hindemith-Bartok conflation with nifty syncopations, but without Persichetti’s distinctive personal characteristics. The Gregson is a short concert-opener, while the Maw is a full 22 minutes, but neither leaves a strong impression.

Arnold Schoenberg’s Theme and Variations is an international band classic. Listeners who are not familiar with it may be surprised that this clearly tonal composition from 1943 displays neither the torrid hyper-romanticism of the composer’s early work nor the congested, unrelieved angst of the later twelve-tone pieces. Rather, it conjures something of a wry, impish solemnity that suggests Kurt Weill tempered by Hindemith, and illuminates an important, but less familiar, facet of Schoenberg’s compositional personality.

Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is offered in Ferde Grofe’s original jazz-band orchestration. William Black is a fine pianist, but both he and the ensemble approach this chestnut with a gentility that I find too relaxed and polished (though they are far from unique in this misconception). Recordings made under Gershwin’s direct supervision exhibit a rough-hewn feistiness that seems to have disappeared from the performance tradition of this pops favorite.

HOVHANESS: String Quartets: No. 1, “Jupiter”; No. 2 (excerpts); No. 3, “Reflections on my Childhood”; No. 4, “The Ancient Tree.” Four Bagatelles. Symph. No. 1, “Exile”. Meditation on Orpheus. Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints. ZHOU LONG: Song of the Ch’in.

HOVHANESS: String Quartets: No. 1, “Jupiter”; No. 2 (excerpts); No. 3, “Reflections on my Childhood”; No. 4, “The Ancient Tree.” Four Bagatelles. ZHOU LONG: Song of the Ch’in. Shanghai String Quartet. DELOS DE-3162 [DDD]; 69:28. Produced by Amelia Haygood.

HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 1, “Exile”. Meditation on Orpheus. Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Gerard Schwarz conducting the Seattle Symphony; Ron Johnson, marimba; Michael York, narrator; Diane Schmidt. DELOS DE-3168 [DDD]; 59:53. Produced by Amelia Haygood.

For the past half-century, the music of Alan Hovhaness has continued to enjoy recurring surges of popularity, often as a result of fervent championing by influential figures, such as Leopold Stokowski and Andre Kostelanetz (to name perhaps the two most prominent), and by association with other — seemingly incompatible, or at least partly incongruous — socio-aesthetic movements. During the 1940s, he seemed to benefit from association with those West Coast figures — chiefly Henry Cowell, John Cage, and Lou Harrison — who had begun to explore aesthetic alternatives to the Western classical tradition. During the 1950s, MGM Records, under the stewardship of Edward Cole, launched an incredibly bold, adventurous, and imaginative — though short-lived — 20th-century music series that spotlighted Hovhaness’ music in particular. Then, after a brief lull, the counter-cultural movement of the late-1960s and early 70s, drawn to what was perceived as spiritual purity in the music and religions of India and the Far East, discovered Hovhaness anew. Since that time, the anti-Modernists, the Minimalists, and the New Age/Hearts of Space devotees have all embraced Hovhaness as a kindred spirit, to some extent.

Yet all along, many commentators have maintained a certain skepticism, finding much of Hovhaness’ music to be simplistic — increasingly so over the years. Also disturbing has been the composer’s truly profligate fecundity, inflated by a shameless redundancy — of concepts, techniques, and actual material. A vein of opportunism has lurked uneasily within the persona of the inspired visionary pointing the way toward spiritual enlightenment.

However, the rate at which new Hovhaness releases appear suggests that his music is more popular right now than ever before. Here is the latest batch from Delos, whose exploration of other American symphonic music seems to have slowed down, as they concentrate on the 84-year-old mystic. Of the two discs, the string quartet recording is actually the more interesting.

Years ago, the Hovhaness public relations myth included the story that during the early 1940s he had burned thousands of manuscripts deemed aesthetically false, before embarking on the musico-spiritual quest that led him to explore the artistic expressions of Eastern cultures. However, during recent years, a number of these pre-1940 works have surfaced, sometimes in revised form, sometimes as portions of other works. For example, we are offered here the first recording of Hovhaness’ String Quartet No 1, dated 1936. This work contains the original version of what has since become known as Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, as well as the original appearance of the rapid second-subject material from what became the double fugue (second movement) of Mysterious Mountain. Hovhaness later appended the subtitle, “Jupiter” to this quartet, in reference to the
quadruple invertible counterpoint that appears in the finale of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony. In view of the essentially rudimentary nature of Hovhaness’ quadruple counterpoint, this appropriation strikes me as presumptuous and self-serving. On the other hand, I was surprised to discover how effective this music is as rendered by string quartet, although the later revisions eliminated some awkward passages.

Only three movements of the seven-movement String Quartet No. 2 are included, for no apparent reason. The three movements are tiny, adding up to less than five minutes, but are attractive examples of the composer’s early 1950s style — one of his most rewarding evolutionary phases.

Quartets Nos. 3 and 4 are welcome discoveries for me. Both were composed in 1964 — not such a propitious period for Hovhaness — and share the same opus number, suggesting that they were written essentially simultaneously. They are certainly similar in style. However, despite the presence of most of the techniques found in the composer’s other works of that time — as well as some devices familiar from earlier works — an introspective intensity and freshness of conviction emerges from these two quartets, accentuated by the precision and commitment of these readings, that elevates them above most of Hovhaness’ music from the mid-1960s.

The four Bagatelles seem to have been written the same year, but exemplify the all-too-familiar rehashing of all-too-familiar material.

Zhou Long is a Chinese composer who studied in New York, and is currently active in both China and the United States. Song of the Ch’in, a nine-minute piece written in 1982, appears to be his best-known work. Bearing little actual resemblance to Hovhaness, it quite successfully accomplishes a comparable fusion of Eastern and Western elements, though the result is somewhat more challenging to the listener.

The Shanghai Quartet was formed in China in 1983, although its Michigan-born cellist must have joined more recently. They play with considerable precision and refinement, allowing the simplicity of Hovhaness’ music to sound pure, rather than obvious.

* * *

The orchestral disc is essentially a re-make of a CBS LP from the mid-1970s that contained three of the works offered here in performances conducted by Andre Kostelanetz. Actually, in view of Hovhaness’ current popularity, it is surprising that Sony has not reissued that LP which, at 65 minutes, was already CD-length — and, indeed, longer than the Delos CD under discussion here.

The unfamiliar work here is the Symphony No. 1 — certainly interesting as the starting point in a cycle of symphonies whose number is exceeded (at this point) only by Haydn. The symphony is dated 1937, although more than 30 years later the composer replaced its cretinous scherzo with an attractive and gracious intermezzo. But the remainder of the work is quite disappointing, consisting largely of banal fanfares, modal or simplistically
chromatic melodies accompanied by ostinato patterns, and pseudo-counterpoint alternating with hymn-like passages in static, non-developmental fashion. Meditation on Orpheus has become, along with Mysterious Mountain and Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, something of a Hovhaness classic. Composed largely in 1957 (though it includes some earlier material and has been further revised, I believe, since its first recording), it exemplifies the sort of impressionistically textured, exotically atmospheric tone-poem that was a major focus of the composer’s attention at that time. Especially notable is its satisfying concision, a quality that Hovhaness seemed to dispense with later on.

Several of Hovhaness’ lesser works have achieved some prominence in the repertoire, largely, it seems, as a result of the exposure accorded them in major venues and on major record labels by Andre Kostelanetz. Among these are And God Created Great Whales (presented also on the previous Schwarz/Seattle/Delos recording) and the two remaining works on this program. Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints was composed in 1965 and features the xylophone in a solo role, which is its chief point of interest. Otherwise, despite its evocative sense of atmosphere, there is little to distinguish it from other works of this period. If I am not mistaken, Kostelanetz’s rendition had at least one substantial cut, restored here.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1977) takes us from the mediocre to the horrendous. As routine and uninteresting as much of Hovhaness’ music is, very rarely does it cross the line of taste into the realm of sleaze. But this piece is one of the exceptions, I’m afraid — and it’s not just a matter of the prominent use of the accordion, a worthy enough instrument whose identity has suffered through over-association with schlock musical styles. But its presence here does not help matters. The work features spoken verses from The Rubaiyat, separated by instrumental interludes. Some of the interludes are not too bad, but some — the penultimate one, for example — are remarkably banal and vulgar, as if Hovhaness were deliberately aiming at a more “commercial” sound. Michael York lends a dashing swagger to his reading of the verses, in marked contrast to the sense of a seasoned, retrospective sensuality created by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., on the Kostelanetz recording. 

None of this music is particularly difficult to play, and performances are quite acceptable. The xylophone arid accordion soloists are exemplary. What bothers me about this disc and the previous Hovhaness/Schwarz disc (see Fanfare 18:1, pp. 216-17 is that, along with the plethora of Hovhaness orchestral music that has never been recorded, among which are some very fine works from the 1940s and 50s (which I have identified often enough in
previous reviews), the decision-makers seem content simply to re-record what has already been done, regardless of its intrinsic merit.

HOLDRIDGE: Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra. Lazarus and his Beloved: Symphonic Suite. Scenes of Summer. Ballet Fantasy. Andante. Grand Waltz. ALBINONI-HOLDRIDGE: Adagio.

HOLDRIDGE: Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra. Lazarus and his Beloved: Symphonic Suite. Scenes of Summer. Ballet Fantasy. Andante. Grand Waltz. ALBINONI-HOLDRIDGE: Adagio. Lee Holdridge conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles String Orchestra; Glenn Dicterow, violin. CITADEL CTD-88104 [ADD/DDD]; 77:35. Produced by Tom Null.

Lee Holdridge was born in Haiti and grew up in Costa Rica, before coming to the United States to study music at age 18. Now 51, he has been for many years a successful composer of scores for film (Splash, Mr. Mom, et al.) and television. This CD reissues some of Holdridge’s “classical” pieces composed and originally recorded during the 1970s.

The music is so similar in concept and effect overall that few comments about individual pieces are necessary in order to convey an impression of the disc as a whole. What is “classical” about this music is that it is autonomous rather than accompanimental in conception and devoid of overt vernacular stylistic or instrumental usages. However, it is not “classical” to the extent that the term implies structural or developmental complexity of any kind. Rather, this is purely melodic music, with little that couldn’t be reduced to a tune
played by the right hand with arpeggiated accompaniment in the left. However, it is all presented in sumptuous orchestral dress, with no detail omitted that might enhance the opulence of effect. The result, is — from a stylistic standpoint — film music without the film. Mind you, this description is not intended to be critical or negative, unless Holdridge has more exalted pretensions. I can assure you that many people — people who enjoy the “sound” of Hollywood film music — will love this disc from beginning to end, and I myself would certainly rather hear it playing in the background than any one of several thousand Baroque concertos. But because of its two-dimensional construction, the music can be entirely grasped in a single hearing or two. There is no psychological depth or true musical activity, no deeper levels to plumb — so far as I can tell — so that, as is inevitable with music of this kind, interest can pall very quickly.

The most elaborate and ambitious work is the ful1-length Violin Concerto No. 2, written in 1978 for Glenn Dicterow, who performs it splendidly on this recording. The first movement, which has a terrifically compelling opening, contains the disc’s only moments of emotional drama. Interest falls off a bit during the second and third movements. But on the whole, I can safely that listeners who appreciate the Korngold concerto are likely to enjoy this one just as much.

Also worthy of comment is the 15-minute symphonic suite from Holdridge’s 1974 religious opera, Lazarus and his Beloved. This is super-romantic, ultra-lush, post-Puccinian piety pushed to the max. The reservations noted above apply, but many will find this delicious fun anyway.

The rest of the music is in the same vein, though a little less ambitious. The arrangement of the Albinoni Adagio is deliberately Stokowskian. Performances are full throttle and the recording makes the most of it all. Definitely for musical hedonists — musical snobs had better steer clear.

HOIBY: Songs (18); O Florida (5 songs). I Was There (5 songs). Two Songs of Innocence. An Immorality. Night. Where the Music Comes From. Why Don’t You? What If. Investiture at Cecconi’s

HOIBY: Songs (18). Peter Stewart, baritone; Lee Hoiby, piano. 
CRI CD-685 [DDD]; 56:51. Produced by Marc Aubort, Joanna Nickrenz.
O Florida (5 songs). I Was There (5 songs). Two Songs of Innocence. An Immorality. Night. Where the Music Comes From. Why Don’t You? What If . . . Investiture at Cecconi’s

Now nearly 70 years old, Lee Hoiby has been slowly and quietly amassing a body of work notable for both its authenticity of feeling and its consistently high quality. All the music of his that I know is permeated by an unashamedly gentle and vulnerable sensibility and often by a subtle sweetness as well. Although he has worked in most media and genres, his best and generally, best-known work has been his operatic, choral, and solo vocal music, which inhabits the sensitive, lyrical aesthetic domain associated with Ned Rorem and, especially, Samuel Barber, who was his teacher and close associate. This new compact disc provides the opportunity to become acquainted with eighteen of Hoiby’s many songs in fine, sympathetic performances featuring baritone Peter Stewart, accompanied by the composer, who is an excellent, professional-level pianist 

It is easy to review this disc briefly and succinctly, because its felicities are many–too many and too specific to itemize here–with no shortcomings of any consequence. This is music, as I wrote recently in reference to Samuel Barber, that is “beautiful,” as that term is understood by the average listener. My one reservation–and it is one I have made before with regard to CD collections featuring many unfamiliar songs–is that attempting to absorb a dozen or two songs, one after the other by a single composer, creates a generalized impression that tends to obscure the specific, unique merits of individual selections. I find that concentrating on a small group can intensify one’s focus and shed a more revealing light on the collection as a whole.  

For example, if I were introducing this disc to a friend, I would play perhaps “The Lamb” from the Two Songs of Innocence, for its poignant spiritual purity, and the dramatic setting of  “Oh Captain My Captain!” from the five Whitman settings entitled “I Was There.” I  might also play “Where the Music Comes From,” in which Hoiby sets a text of his own, as he does in the choral Hymn to the New Age, in a somewhat more popular language, to create an idealistic yet very personal statement of fervent hope and love of humanity. These are perhaps the songs on the disc that are most direct in effect. Others, such as “Investiture at Cecconi’s” and the Wallace Stevens settings, O Florida, are somewhat more oblique and sophisticated. But Hoiby’s music is never cold, sterile, or remote.

Lee Hoiby’s music is not adequately represented on recording at this time. It would be wonderful to be able to enjoy some of his operas, such as Summer and Smoke and The Tempest, in the sort of definitive treatment recently accorded Carlisle Floyd’s  
Susannah.  There is also a gorgeous oratorio called Galileo Galilei that has never been recorded, a lovely Hymn of the Nativity, many shorter choral works, and an excellent solo piano work called Narrative. A Gothic CD of short choral works is, I believe, a reissue of an LP that suffered badly from poor recorded sound. Hoiby’s music will offer substantial rewards to a large number of listeners.

THOMPSON: Frostiana. Testament of Freedom

THOMPSON: Frostiana. Testament of Freedom. Richard Auldon Clark conducting the New York Choral Society and the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra.
KOCH INTERNATIONAL 3-7283-2H1 [DDD]; 49:07. Produced by Michael Fine.

The graphics of this new release give Randall Thompson’s somewhat better-knownTestament of Freedom center stage treatment, but it is Frostiana that offers the chief musical interest and satisfaction. Written to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city of Amherst, Massachusetts in 1959, Frostiana comprises settings of seven of Robert Frost’s best-known poems. Within a consonant, diatonic musical language whose simple directness is universally accessible, the half-hour cycle successfully paints a poignant and remarkably apt musical analogue to Frost’s vision of rural New England and of the values and sensibilities associated with this milieu. The work concludes with a setting of “Choose Something Like a Star” which, despite its utter simplicity, is deeply and unforgettably moving. (Immediately following the premiere, Frost reportedly rose from his seat and bellowed, “Sing that again!”)

Thompson’s choral music seems to be the most enduring portion of his output; much of it is performed far more widely throughout the country than its representation on recordings might suggest. I believe that this new release marks Frostiana’s first appearance on a commercial recording, although it has been a favorite of choruses ever since it was written. I have felt for a long time that a recording would provide a welcome introduction of the work to a different segment of the listening audience. But, unfortunately, this performance is not
fully satisfactory. During the past few years, the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra’s many recordings, under the leadership of founder and conductor Richard Auldon Clark, have contributed significantly to the discovery and revival of American music of the middle third of this century. But, in general, Clark’s performances tend to emphasize accuracy, intonation, and warm, homogeneously blended textures at the expense of rhythmic and dynamic thrust, and this is also true here: the music is not quite as bland and passive as it sounds on this recording.

Furthermore, the chorus’s phrasing lacks nuance, resulting at times in a mechanical squareness of rhythm. I cannot help but recommend this release as a means of discovering a most rewarding piece, but there is room for interpretive improvement.

Testament of Freedom presents selections from the writings of Thomas Jefferson in primarily homophonic, syllabic settings. While using essentially the same simple, straightforward musical language as Frostiana, it is a much less interesting work. Rather like lower-drawer Elgar, it proceeds with a stately and occasionally stirring sense of patriotic self-satisfaction. Composed in 1943, Testament was apparently intended as a positive, encouraging wartime statement. But, as is usually the case with such efforts, the result is musically unimaginative and emotionally simplistic.

Both these works were originally conceived with piano accompaniment, and, for obvious reasons, this is the way they generally performed. However, the orchestral versions heard here are far preferable for listening purposes.

ROSNER: Of Numbers and of Bells. Sonata for French Horn and Piano. Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano. Nightstone

ROSNER: Of Numbers and of Bells. Sonata for French Horn and Piano. Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano. Nightstone. Randolph Lacy, tenor; Heidi Garson, French Horn; Maxine Neuman, cello; Timothy Hester, piano; Nancy Weems, piano; Yolanda Liepa, piano; Joan Stein, piano. ALBANY TROY-163 (DDD; ADDl; 67:13. Produced by John Proffitt, Max Schubel.

As American composer Arnold Rosner turns 50 this year, his large output of more than 100 works continues to reach increasingly larger audiences. This new release provides an opportunity for those who have discovered this unusual composer only since the advent of the compact disc to acquaint themselves with the two works that first introduced his name to recordings: the Sonata for Horn and Piano and the Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano, each of which first appeared on Opus One LPs (seeFanfare 8:1, p. 299; 9:5, p. 226). Thane excellent readings are reissued on this Albany disc, complemented by a couple of first recordings that also feature superb performances. Most important, all four works — duos for various media — are representative of Rosner at his most compelling arid most individual, making this an indispensable release for all those who are already admirers of his music, as well as for those who might be contemplating their first exposure to it.

By way of introduction to readers not yet familiar with the composer and his works (see also interview in Fanfare 14:5, pp. 414-19), Rosner is something of a maverick, rejecting virtually every compositional trend, from Neoclassicism and Neoromanticism to Serialism and Minimalism. Instead, he has developed a unique yet highly accessible language built largely around modal melodies, consonant, triadic harmony — often used in unconventional, non-tonal ways–and applications of such venerable techniques as cantus firmus and isorhythm, not to mention passacaglia, fugue, and sonata-allegro form. There is a strongly spiritual quality to much of his music, often Roman-Catholic in flavor, most obviously in his a capella masses, yet his own Jewish background is also evident in a number of works, either explicitly (e.g. the Sephardic Rhapsody) or through the appearance of a vaguely Middle-Easternmelos. More angular complex passages may suggest Shostakovich or Holmboe (to listeners familiar with the great Dane), while simpler, more diatonic sections often resemble Hovhaness. The propensity for spiritual states of mind and ancient techniques may lead the reader to suspect something along the lines of Gorecki, Part, or Tavener, but Rosner is much more accommodating to the listener’s desire for contrapuntal, rhythmic, and developmental activity dramatic tension and resolution, and variety in mood and emotion. His weakest aspect is a tendency toward a plodding rhythmic monotony in some works and, like many prolific composers who work within a highly idiosyncratic, circumscribed style (e.g., Hovhaness, Martinu, etc.), there is a tendency toward redundancy. But at his best, Rosner has something unique and refreshing to offer, and most of his work can be appreciated by listeners with little background in classical music.

The Cello Sonata No. 1 is the earliest work here, dating from 1968, when the composer was 23, although it underwent significant revision in 1977. It is rather similar to the Horn Sonata of 1979, although the latter — one of Rosner’s most fully consummated works — is more polished and sophisticated. This sonata seems well on the way to becoming a staple of the repertoire for the instrument. Both sonatas comprise three movements in a slow-fast-slow sequence. The first movements are angular and searching, with a piercingly brooding intensity, not unlike Shostakovich in his chamber works. The Horn Sonata opening is a brilliant passacaglia whose structure is neatly concealed by its expressive immediacy. Both second movements are scherzo-like in character, though the Cello Sonata’s is demonic and violent, while the Horn Sonata’s is jubilant and exalted. Both finales are incantational and hymn-like, with a rapturous, devotional quality.

Of Numbers and of Bells, dating from 1983, is the most recent of the selections offered here. Its title suggests its joint preoccupation with both sonority and numerology. Scored for two pianos, it presents a haunting and mysterious pattern of modal, Middle-Eastern-sounding arabesques that becomes a backdrop against which develop multi-layered textures based on irregularly overlapping rhythmic patterns, chordal patterns, and piano sonorities, culminating at times in thunderous, noble roars. The work may strike some listeners as New Age or Minimalist in effect, although both currents are anathema to Rosner. At 15 minutes, it does go on a bit too long, but there is much about it that is quite lovely, and the piece has already proven to have captivating effect on many listeners.

Nightstone(1979) comprises settings of three well-known portions of the Song of Songs in a folk-like, slightly Hebraic vein. The melodies are pleasantly ingratiating, and the second song, in particular, has real character. But the accompaniments could benefit from a more varied and colorful scoring — perhaps flute, harp, and tambourine, for example — because with piano alone, the simple arpeggiated and chordal figurations, with recurrent use of quintuple meter, become a bit monotonous Randolph Lacy has a light, accurate tenor whose quality is nicely suited to the music.