Hovhaness Concerto for 2 Pianos; (3) Pieces for 2 Pianos

Exotically tinged works that belie the composer’s conservative reputation

Author: 
Andrew Farach-Colton

Hovhaness Concerto for 2 Pianos; (3) Pieces for 2 Pianos

  • Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra
  • Mihr
  • Ko-Ola-U
  • Vijag
  • Lousadzak

Alan Hovhaness bucked most of the late 20th century’s modernist trends, which may explain why his music doesn’t sound all that dated. The Concerto for Two Pianos (1954) could have been written yesterday, in fact; with its intermingling of raga and fugue, it’s the kind of east-meets-west venture that still seems to be the rage. Yet it’s also thornier music than those familiar with, say, the composer’s Mysterious Mountain Symphony (his best known work) might expect, and I could imagine it surprising those who think of him as bland.

There’s quite a bit of stark dissonance, particularly in the second movement, in which the pianists climb volatile symphonic terrain in jagged, quasi-atonal arpeggios. The solo parts are the opposite of flashy, though, and often seem to blend into the orchestra’s percussion section. When they do get a chance to step forward, however, pianists Martin Berkofsky and Atakan Sari make an impressive showing; the gamelan-like passagework in the finale, for example, chimes exquisitely.

Berkofsky gets more of a chance to flex his muscles in the Lousadzak Concerto (1944). Marco Shirodkar points out in the booklet-note that Hovhaness, who is so often thought of as a musical conservative, actually anticipated many soon-to-be-hip aleatory techniques. Note the nervous, chattering pizzicato that accompanies the piano’s stark cadenza: it’s actually ‘improvised’ by the strings. Less dramatically incisive than the Double Concerto, the music has a spare sensuality that’s equally, if not more, delectable.

In both concertos the Globalis Symphony Orchestra play expertly under Konstantin Krimets. Three exotically tinged pieces for two pianos fill out the disc and they, too, are sensitively rendered. An important and attractive addition to Hovhaness’s discography.

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