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CD Review

Looking To The East

CRI 836
  • Lou Harrison: Suite for Violin, Piano & Small Orchestra 1
  • Henry Cowell: Homage to Iran 2
  • Colin McPhee: Nocturne for Chamber Orchestra 3
  • Alan Hovhaness:
  • Koke No Niwa 4
  • The Holy City 5
  • Triptych 6
1 Anahid Ajemian, violin; Maro Ajemian, piano; Leopold Stokowski and his Orchestra
2 Leopold Avakian, violin; Mitchell Andrews, piano; Basil Bahar, Persian drum
3 Hessian Radio Symphony Orchestra/David Van Vactor
4 Melvin Kaplan, English horn; Walter Rosenberger & Elden Bailey, percussion; Ruth Negri, harp; Alan Hovhaness, conductor
5 Elgar Howarth, trumpet; The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Arthur Bennett Lipkin
6 Benita Valente, soprano; Bavarian Radio Singers; Members of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Alfredo Antonini
CRI CD 836 ADD 76:29
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This compilation is a tribute to Oliver Daniel (1911-1990), a co-founder of Composer Recordings, Inc. (CRI) in 1954 with Otto Luening and Douglas Moore. Prior to that time, he had been active with the major radio networks – when they still routinely played classical music. Without his efforts, Leopold Stokowski would not have conducted the première of Charles Ives' Fourth Symphony in 1965; Daniel introduced the score to Stokowski, and he provided much of the financial backing. His comprehensive biography of this conductor was published in 1982, and he was doing the same for Dimitri Mitropoulos at the time of his death. (Ironically, the first major biography of Mitropoulos was finally written by William H. Trotter, who also wrote the booklet notes for this CD.)

The booklet note doesn't say whether Daniel had a taste for Eastern cultures, although there is a photograph of him holding a brake drum with Lou Harrison and Alan Hovhaness. No matter: this is a wonderful idea for a compilation. In CRI's words, this is "music inspired by Asia and the Middle East from America's musical pioneers." Material from six LPs released between 1957 and 1970 has been brought together to make a surprisingly coherent release, in spite of the diverse material. Each of these was a première recording.

Harrison's Suite probably is the most familiar work here. It was inspired by Balinese gamelan music and premièred by Leopold Stokowski, who performs it here with sisters Anahid (violin) and Maro (piano) Ajemian Trotter's description of "elegant simplicity" suits it perfectly; this is music that opens new doors yet has the power to charm all who hear it. Henry Cowell's Homage to Iran doesn't actually quote Persian music; it merely imitates its gentle style. This is a work for violin and piano, here played by Leopold Avakian and Mitchell Andrews. There is also a Persian drum obbligato, played by Basil Bahar. Cowell's avant-garde compositional techniques are largely put aside here in favor of graceful music-making. Colin McPhee, best known for Tabuh-Tabuhan, wrote other works inspired by his stay in Bali, including this wistful Nocturne for chamber orchestra. Here, David Van Vactor conducts the Hessian Radio Symphony Orchestra, although Stokowski also gave the first performance.

The rest of the disc is made up of music by Alan Hovhaness. Delicately scored for English horn, harp, and two percussionists, Koke No Niwa was described by the composer as "a garden of sounds and silences." It is ineffably pretty and contemplative. The Holy City is more typically iconoclastic. A solo trumpet (played here by Elgar Howarth) sings out devoutly over a rustling bed of divided strings (Arthur Bennett Lipkin with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). The ringing of a large orchestral chime punctuates the night air. Triptych contains an Ave Maria, a Christmas Ode, and an Easter Cantata, all fairly brief. It is notable how Hovhaness has written music on central Christian themes without relying on Western European or American clichés. Unusually, we feel the Middle Eastern culture in this music about Jesus. Alfredo Antonini conducts members of the Bamberg Symphony and the Bavarian Radio Singers. Benita Valente is the soprano soloist.

In terms of both historical and musical value, Looking to the East is one of the most interesting releases I've heard all year. Congratulations to CRI for putting it together. Anyone curious about these composers will need to own this.

Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle

Trumpet