- Khrimian Hairig, for trumpet & string orchestra, Op. 49
- Concerto for guitar & orchestra, Op. 325
- Symphony No.60 ("To the Appalachian Mountains"), Op. 396
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There was a time where the name of Alan Hovhaness was lumped in with the avant-garde of his generation; older sources frequently cite him in the company of John Cage and Lou Harrison, who were his close friends and shared his genuine interest in what is now called world music. However, thinking of Hovhaness as an avant-garde composer does him a disservice; his music is among the most accessible and conservative of any composer of his generation, being stylistically only slightly to the left of Howard Hanson. Naxos American Classics' Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 60 seems designed to highlight works of Hovhaness that have a universal appeal and therefore to broaden his fan base -- while he is among the most performed of twentieth century American composers, such efforts are worthwhile and certainly cannot hurt his reputation. Conductor Gerard Schwarz goes back with Hovhaness a long, long time; the composer made his home in Seattle for most of his latter years, and Schwarz has recorded, and probably premiered, more Hovhaness than any other conductor, recording Hovhaness for Delos, Koch, and now Naxos. The opening piece on this disc, 1944's "Khrimian Hairig, Op. 49," is remembered by Hovhaness' last wife, Hinako Fujihara, as his "true masterpiece." This assessment may not be off the mark by much as this eight-minute vignette for trumpet and orchestra is a remarkably single-minded, assured, and evocative effort, and trumpet players should be thankful that Hovhaness has given them something in this vein to play besides Copland's "Quiet City." Trumpeter Lars Ranch rises to the occasion and delivers a superb performance of the piece, which is saying a lot as Schwarz himself is a trumpeter of renown who would not have settled for second best in this case. The title work, Hovhaness' "Symphony No. 60 To the Appalachian Mountains, Op. 396," dates from 1985 and is among the last of Hovhaness' 67 numbered symphonies. Its general mood appears to reflect the smoky majesty of the Appalachians themselves and does not devolve into imitations of the music associated with that region (i.e., bluegrass and old-timey mountain music); although some lip service is paid to Native American cultures that once inhabited this region during the second movement Allegro. The least successful work of the three seems to be the "Guitar Concerto, Op. 325." While in a musical sense it is pleasant enough, there is very little interaction between the guitar and orchestra as Hovhaness' orchestral entrances tend to be rather loud and monolithic, a texture with which no guitar could expect to compete. While Hovhaness is familiar enough with the guitar to score some attractively Spanish-sounding passages for it, much of the solo part is less than idiomatic and sounds like a lot of work. In this case, the wide disparity between soft passages and loud in Deutschlandradio's recording is not helpful; the listener will be reaching for the volume knob quite a bit as the concerto progresses. Overall, though, Naxos American Classics' Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 60 is a very good place to get a grip on Hovhaness and his general musical approach. The performances all around are of excellent quality, and the sound, while compromised a bit in quiet passages, is certainly rich and full in the loud ones.