Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Album Review: Hovhaness: From the Ends of the Earth

Click to sample and buy the album   
I’m always surprised when a portion of a massively prolific composer’s work is not well represented on recordings. Such is the case with the choral music of the  joyfully fecundAlan Hovhaness. Thankfully one of the most frequently recorded choirs in the nation,Gloriæ Dei Cantore, have stepped up to give Hovhaness his due. Elizabeth C. Patterson (the choir’s director) conducts the mixed voice ensemble in From the Ends of the Earth, a program of Hovhaness’s gorgeous sacred choral music.
Speaking of Hovhaness’s music, critic-composer Virgil Thomson wrote, “…the purity of its inspiration, is evidenced by the extreme beauty of its melodic material…it is utterly simple in feeling, pure in spirit…” Much of what Thomson wrote about is in evidence here. Gloriæ Dei Cantore (GDC) sail the waves of popping rhythms in one of the most likeable works on the program, the Cantate Domino from 1984. I’m not sure which of GDC’s two organists (David Chalmers or James Jordan, Jr.) plays the solo in the piece, but the performer does spin some twisty lines that animate the choir. The sheer prettiness of the Triptych: Ave Maria is irresistible. Its delicate scoring (oboe, harp and women’s voices) has an airborne quality and the women’s voices of GDC do float in and around the instruments with just the right lightness of tone. The Simple Mass, a 1975 work, features some of Hovhaness’s finest music for unison voices. The piece also has some exotic organ writing, and I particularly love the Messiaen-like elements in the Lamb of God movement. All of these works have unaffected heart and a straight-ahead honesty, qualities that are beautifully communicated by GDC. Hovhaness could also be daring and exotic. The twisting harmonies of “From the ends of the Earth” are fascinating as are the droning voices and Eastern flavors of “I will rejoice in the Lord.”
GDC’s performances are excellent. Each one of those pure clean lines is beautifully articulated and GDC sings out with sweetness and, when necessary, plenty of power. The soloists are very good and, as I mentioned earlier, the organ soloists are stand-outs. If you don’t know Hovhaness’s choral music, I can think of no better introduction than From the Ends of the Earth.

Click to sample and buy the album

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