Memories of childhood and trees
Rodney Gavin Bullock | Winchester, Hampshire Angleterre | 05/23/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The American composer, Alan Hovhaness, died in 2000, aged 89. Like many Americans, Hovhaness felt an emotional attachment to two countries - the USA, where he was born (in Massachusetts) and Armenia, the land of his father. This led to a love of Armenian music and then to explorations much further east, including India and China, with all these elements helping to form his mature style. His concern was with beauty and his best works have a `visionary' feel which evoke a feeling in the listener of something beyond. Despite writing over 60 symphonies, he is not really a symphonic composer: he rarely resorts to development or tonality in an architectural sense. His love of fugues highlights his admiration of Bach. The music is totally accessible and anyone wary of modern music need have no fears.This delightful disc contains three complete string quartets (1,3 and 4), the Suite from String Quartet No 2 and a set of Bagatelles. Finally, there is `Song of the Ch'in' by the Chinese composer, Zhou Long. Hovhaness's huge output can be seen from quartets 3 and 4 being grouped together under Op.208 (Nos 1 & 2).The Bagatelles are all very short, charming pieces in different styles. The 1st quartet begins with a short prelude consisting of a quirky melody and is followed by a strict fugue with four subjects. It may suggest an dry academic exercise but is finely written. Next is a beautiful elegiac slow movement. The quartet ends with yet another fugue which initially bears a striking resemblance to the one in the famous Mysterious Mountain symphony (No.2).The Suite from his quartet no.3 consists of three movements from the longer work which had at least seven. Why he thought it necessary to extract a suite lasting less than five minutes long is not explained. The first is Gamelan in Sosi style, the second Spirit Murmur and the last Hymn. Charming miniatures.The 3rd quartet is titled `Reflections on my Childhood' (Childhood Fantasia in New England). The first movement is a beautiful meditation with a modal and liturgical feel to it, followed by music of more eastern flavour, perhaps reflecting the young boy's New England upbringing, followed by the growing awareness of his Armenian heritage. The liturgical gentleness returns at the beginning of the second movement. `Armenian' episodes reappear but this time are integrated into the gentle flow except for the last, extended one, which has the last say. A beautiful piece full of gentle nostalgia.`The Ancient Tree' (Under the Ancient Maple Tree) is the title of his 4th quartet. It is a touching requiem to a beautiful tree on Hovhaness's uncle's farm in New Hampshire which was destroyed by lightning. As a boy, he remembers the glorious views he commanded from this point. It begins with a beautiful adagio, again modal in feel, which reflects the bitter-sweet memories of things past and gone forever. The inevitable fugue follows but the main theme has the character of a rustic dance. The final movement begins adagio with some music of heart-breaking beauty. A brighter mood gradually appears and the piece ends with a fast, celebratory passage.Zhou Long's `Song of the Ch'in' for string quartet dates from 1982. The Ch'in is a Chinese zither and this piece reflects the various ways of playing it - plucking, ornaments etc.. It is a quite complex but approachable work with elements of Chinese and Western music.The performances by the Shanghai Quartet are excellent and the recording is good, even if the players sound a little distant. The insert notes are very full."
Interesting chamber works
G. Metcalf | United States | 10/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The music on this disc is good consistently. I found the textures in the more varied Bagatelles more stimulating than the more repititious quartets but it is all good and doesn't sound like just another quartet. The elements of Eastern music add quite a bit of interest. The recording quality is excellent. In writing this it was difficult to add much to the extensive comments of Mr. Bullock but I hope that another voice asserting the quality of this music will encourage the reader to go off the beaten path and give this stuff a try."