Cult potential: high. Hovhaness writes in an approachable, strongly modal idiom which tends to lend a soothing, supplicatory glow to the proceedings, whilst occasional tinklings from celesta and glockenspiel add a dash of oriental exoticism. His sumptuous, yet never clotted string-writing casts quite a spell, as do the endless threads of melody which, mantra-like, bind together so much of this music's progress.
Indeed, a most beguiling lyrical impulse informs the first two movements of the Mount St Helens Symphony (No. 50) from 1983. The second, entitled ''Spirit Lake'', is particularly affecting. Insistent, strangely Sibelian pizzicatos form a background against which lonely woodwind sing out their expressive runes (on this evidence, Hovhaness's identification with nature is potent): this really is a most haunting creation, and I can't stop playing it! After a gentle introduction, the last movement, ''Volcano'', erupts with a vengeance (be warned—the awesome bass-drum thwack at 1'44'' nearly gave me a coronary!). The pounding central portion achieves a frightening momentum, and Hovhaness's sense of orchestral spectacle (such as those odious, yet startlingly effective trombone glissandos from 2'48'' onwards) produces some often thrilling sounds—no wonder the symphony went down so well with the public at its Seattle premiere. Granted, the coupling from 1971, City of Light (Symphony No. 22), is rather less interesting, yet both middle movements do possess a certain homespun charm. The composer directs here, and very competently too, though he doesn't quite draw playing of the same refulgent tonal richness from the splendid Seattle orchestra that Schwarz manages in the later work.
Over the years, the prolific output (as of October 1991, some 65 symphonies in all!) of this West-Coast mystic has always enjoyed vociferous support from a comparatively tiny band of devotees: this sumptuous-sounding disc could well change all that.'