Janabar ‘Journey’, Op. 81 (1950) with Christina Fong, violin; Paul Hersey, piano; and Michael Bowman, trumpet
Talin, Op. 93 (1951) with Christina Fong, viola
Shambala, Op. 228 (1969) with Christina Fong, violin and Gaurav Mazumdar, sitar
The music of Alan Hovhaness has a simple purity and grace that make it difficult to talk about. Each piece on this disc uses pitch-centric melodic soloists alternated with string orchestra ritornelli passages. Everything on this recording has a distinctive Indian characteristic in the melodic inflections while retaining very simple yet compelling tonal harmonic chorale motion in the accompaniment. Given the similarities between each of these three pieces, there is still a surprising amount of innovation that make each piece and section sound free. The ritornelli are mostly sensuous and homophonic but sometimes spring to life with clouds of pizzicato sounds or ringing metal percussion.
Janabar uses piano and trumpet as alternating soloists through the piece’s five movements. The music, performance, and recording is clean and clear with such a solid compositional voice that there is no questioning whether or not Hovhaness should be doing something else. Talin features the glorious sound of Christina Fong on viola with luscious melodic lines and a sensuous timbre. The 45-minute Shambala brings Christina Fong on violin with Gaurav Mazumdar on sitar. The sitar music is rich and dense with a centered yet fluid sound. This music flows forth like almost no other music I’ve heard recently.
This is the music of a composer who knows exactly who he his and what he sounds like. To want something else from this music is to miss the point of each piece. This music is a force of nature, but a tender and enjoyable force. It does not bluster and stomp around, pouring its emotion or “message” upon the listener. It floats by with a serene purity that makes this listener realize just how rare it is to hear music this honest.
OgreOgress gives you a wealth of stuff here. Not only are there 126 minutes of content on the DVD side of the disc (containing the three complete works as well as 28 minutes of interviews with Hovhannes) but the flip CD side has one movement each from Janabar and Talin and the complete Shambala. Hearing single movements of Janabar and Talin will make you want to flip the disc over and hear the whole thing.
The DVD side is recorded at 24 bit/96 kHz, which should mean something to you techies and audiophiles. These are high quality recordings that put the CD to shame. The sound of the strings, trumpet, and percussion are big and full and it sounds like you are sitting inside the piano. The piano sounds great, but a little too close. I had a sonic disconnect between the closeness of the piano sound yet the “mind’s eye” view of a work for piano, trumpet, and string orchestra on stage. A very minor quibble, indeed. I saw on OgreOgress’s website that they were selling tracks as mp3s, which I understand as a practical necessity of today’s music scene, but is the listening equivalent of looking at the Sistine Chapel from 100 miles away with cataracts and X-ray Specs. Buy the disc, put it in your DVD player (assuming you aren’t going to listen through those bad built-in TV speakers you have), and hear the difference.