Hovhaness: Mysterious Mountains (CD review)

Also, Mysterious Mountain, Hymn to Glacier Peak, Mt. St. Helens, Storm on Mount Wildcat. Gerard Schwarz, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Telarc CD-80604.

Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) was one of the last of the Romantics, a composer who still believed that music should be enjoyed for its melodies, its harmonies, its sheer beauty of expression rather than any radical experimentation. Apparently, the public appreciated his work, too, because he became one of the late twentieth century's most popular living classical composers.

This Telarc disc from 2003 offers a program of four works on one of Hovhaness's favorite subjects: mountains. As Hovhaness said, "Mountains are symbols, like pyramids of man's attempt to know God. Mountains are symbolic meeting places between the mundane and spiritual world."

The selections begin with his most-celebrated and most-recorded work, the Symphony No. 2, "Mysterious Mountain." Even though Hovhaness had been composing professionally for twenty-odd years before Leopold Stokowski premiered the Second Symphony in 1955, "Mysterious Mountain" made the composer famous, and it remains today probably his most well-known piece of music. The composer's own comment about his music in general applies equally to "Mysterious Mountain":  "My purpose is to create music, not for snobs, but for all people--music which is beautiful and healing--to attempt what old Chinese painters called 'spirit resonance in melody and sound.'"

Maestro Gerard Schwarz recorded "Mysterious Mountain" once before, with the Seattle Symphony for Delos, and this time on Telarc with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic he's a bit slower going about his business, a tad more reverentially cautious. There isn't quite the same dash or thrill in the work, not quite the same majesty we heard earlier. Yet he has replaced it with a tranquility that may suit the piece even better. Perhaps it's age creeping up on Schwarz or just a reconsideration of the work, but in any case the reading makes a good companion performance if you already own the Delos disc because the interpretations are different enough to enjoy both. The same goes if you own the classic RCA Living Stereo edition with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, another first-rate choice.

Coupled with "Mysterious Mountain" are Hovhaness's Symphony No. 66, "Hymn to Glacier Peak" (1991); Symphony No. 50, "Mt. St. Helens" (1982); and a particularly energetic rendering of a short early work, "Storm on Mount Wildcat" (1931). I found the Allegro to "Mt. St. Helens" as moving a piece of music as I've heard in a long time.

The Telarc engineers, recording the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic for the first time, produced as smooth a sound as anything they've done. It's not necessarily the most transparent or the most-dimensional sound they've ever recorded, but it is certainly dynamic, natural, and listenable, and it suits the spiritual nature of the music making nicely.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa