Alan Hovhaness: Wind Music

review hovhaness x1 cong

This album has reportedly been in the British classical album chart, so some of you already like this. We never look at the charts: they’re either bands only three students have ever listened to (indie charts), remixes of mediocre tunes featuring Someone Famous (pop) or various guitar works from John Williams and Four Seasons from that Aston Villa fan who fiddles a bit, which has been in the classical charts for ever.

It’s easy to see why this charted/is still charting, as it’s both palatable and interesting. The programme brings together a variety of Hovhaness’s works, with some world premiere recordings.

These range from the earliest of his band compositions, the charming and atmospheric Tapor No.1 Processional Music for Band from 1948, which opens, to some more recent chamber pieces.

It’s not only easy to listen to but it’s interesting, with track three, Three Improvisations on Folk Tunes, throwing in a world feel that continues through the album, evoking dances from the Indian subcontinent. (From 1951 to 1953 Hovhaness was a resident composer for the Voice of America, creating a wide variety of scores in various ethnic styles for broadcast).

The opener sets the tone, both soaring and homely, evocative of close-knit American communities, putting the listener in a favourable mood for what follows.

Mountain Under the Sea is next. It is inspired by the idea that are there are thousands of mountains under the sea that we never see; the overall tone is exotic, far eastern (think Japan), a saxophone delivering ethereal music over the sound of pelagic bangs and bubbles.

Three Improvisations starts off sounding western before a flute comes in with a more exotic sound; it’s Indian bansri music, the sleeve notes say.

Elsewhere, October Mountain is worth a mention, the sleeve notes saying it’s “become a classic of the percussion ensemble repertoire”. The closer, Suite for Band, brings the programme to an end as it started. Hovhaness’s earliest band composition, this is based on a set of counterpoint exercises created by the composer for his composition courses at Boston Conservatory, is somewhere between a modern brass band and Renaissance music.

Out on Naxos 8559837.

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