ALAN HOVHANESS: Solos, Duos, Trios [TrackList below] – Paul Hersey, p./Christina Fong, violin/viola/ Libor Soukal, bassoon/ Jiri Sestak, oboe/ Karen Krummel, cello/ Michael Kornacki, clar./John Varineau, clar./ Radek Dostal, bassoon/Christopher Martin, viola – OgreOgress stereo-only DVD-Audio (96/24) 884502 299595, 126 minutes ****:
This is the third in a series of premiere recordings of the chamber music of the last Alan Hovhaness on this niche contemporary music label. If you are a fan of Hovhaness you will not want to be without any of this series, which brings to light chamber works that we didn’t know existed previously. Only 500 copies are being pressed of this release, so it is truly a limited edition.
There are 13 works here, on a staggering 55 tracks/chapters and running over two hours – try to fit all that on a CD or SACD, which have an 80-minute limit! While it is a two-channel DVD-Audio, it should play successfully on any DVD deck, though it may downsample the 96K/24bit files to 48K/16bit. There is nothing to be seen on a video screen, but the liner notes include all the titles, track numbers, and some description of the selections. Many feature violist Christina Fong or pianist Paul Hersey. The works – composed between 1935 and 1992 – are arranged in chronological order on the disc. The miniatures show the composer’s stylistic eclecticism, including influences from medieval, Armenian, Japanese, and vaguely oriental sources.
The two consecutive piano sonatas, the Poseidon and the Bardo, seemed the most significant of all the pieces to me. In the usual Hovhaness style, they prove not to be sonata-form at all but basically a suite of little movements. The notes are interesting reading. For example, those for “Night of the White Cat” for clarinet & piano mention the many feline-themed miniatures of Hovhaness, and his believe in cat guidance in his composing. After his favorite cat died in 1949 he continued to leave milk out at night for its spirit. The piece has a strongly Japanese flavor.
The performances are all excellent, and in addition to the longer playing time the fidelity is definitely a cut above the usual CD when heard at 96K resolution.
01-03. Trio I for piano, violin & cello Op. 3 (1935)
04-06. Sonata Ricercare for piano Op. 12 (1935)
07-09. Artinis ‘Urardüan Sun God’ for piano Op. 39 (1945)
10-19. Suite for oboe & bassoon Op. 23 (1949)
20-21. Poseidon Sonata for piano Op. 191 (1957)
22-24. Bardo Sonata for piano Op. 192 (1959)
25-27. Sonatina for piano Op. 120 (1962)
28-30. Trio for strings Op. 201 (1962)
31-33. Three Haikus for piano Op. 113 (1965)
34. Night of a White Cat for clarinet & piano Op. 263 (1973)
35-37. Sonata for 2 bassoons Op. 266 (1973)
38-40. Sonata for 2 clarinets Op. 297 (1977)
41-46. Sonata for oboe & bassoon Op. 302 (1977)
47-55. Sonata for viola Op. 423 (1992)
— John Sunier