ALAN HOVHANESS: From the Ends of the Earth – Gloriæ Dei Cantores/ Elizabeth C. Patterson, director – Gloriæ Dei Cantores multichannel SACD GDCD 052, 75:33 [Distr. by Paraclete Press] ****:
Despite the fact that choruses all over the world are quite familiar with the music of Alan Hovhaness, very little of it has made the long and arduous trek to silver disc. Therefore when a group as dignified and accomplished as Gloriæ Dei Cantores takes up the mantel it demands attention. And it must be admitted that it is a long overdue challenge getting some of this stuff on record.
But like most other composers who are as prolific as the one under consideration, there is a lot of chaff along with the wheat, perhaps even most of it being chaff. I am not saying that this is the case in this particular disc, but public acclaim for Hovhaness’s work is usually divisive and argumentative. This is nothing new—a radical usually is ostracized to a certain extent. Those familiar with his music might say “what? Radical?” Musically perhaps not, but a man going the way he did, after having to endure put downs by the up and coming skyscrapers-and-prairies American School, to say nothing of the Gestapo-like hold of the serialist academics that were just beginning to take hold in the forties, well, it can’t have been easy. The credo of Hovhaness, which in general uses religious scaffolding to promote a very humanistic and vaguely deistic philosophy, is direct, naïve, and somewhat pessimistic in the best American tradition, despite the Armenian and ultimately world religion influence that pervades much of the inner mechanics of his work.
This album, recorded in great surround sound, brings to light nine previously unrecorded works along with three that saw the light of day briefly on hard-to-find albums. It does appear to be a significant and comprehensive recital that crosses over the composer’s unique sound and varied styles. But not all is of equal worth; Vatican II inspired Simple Mass, which basically uses a unison choral line, sounds contrived and even a little uneasy, as if the composer couldn’t bring himself to total comfort with this most direct and concrete of religious forms. But the title track of this album, From the Ends of the Earth, as well as the Opus 259 Three Motets show a side of the composer that is not only inspired but technically creative as well, moving in the way that the text is presented and fully satisfying in the creative harmonic and melodic flow.
So while I doubt this album will change any minds in the ongoing debate regarding this composer, it surely fills a longtime gap that sheds new light on a facet of his huge output as well as his growing reputation and place in the pantheon of American music. A very well done disc, superbly sung.
Cantate Domino, Psalm 98, Op. 385; Immortality, Op. 134; Unto Thee, O God, Op. 87, No. 2; Triptych: Ave Maria, Op. 100, No. 1a; Simple Mass, Op. 282; Prelude; Lord, Have Mercy; Glory to God; We Believe in One God; Holy; Lamb of God; From the End of the Earth, Op. 187; Three Motets, Op. 259; Peace Be Multiplied; God Be Merciful Unto Us; Wisdom; Psalm 143: Hear My Prayer, O Lord, Op. 149; I Will Rejoice in the Lord, Op. 42; Why Hast Thou Cast Us Off, Op. 87, No. 1; The God of Glory Thundereth, Op. 140; O Lord God of Hosts, Op. 27
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