Hovhaness Symphony No 22, 'City of Light'; Cello Concerto

An excellent introduction to Hovhaness’s music, plus some intriguing early rarities

Author: 
Andrew Farach-Colton

Hovhaness Symphony No 22, 'City of Light'; Cello Concerto

  • Symphony No. 22, 'City of Light'
  • Concerto for Cello and Orchestra

Heard here in a composer-conducted disc-mate to the première recording of Hovhaness’s early Cello Concerto (1936), City of Light (1970) has some lovely ideas, like the surprisingly sweet and simple string melody in the middle of the ‘Angel of Light’ movement (beginning at 1'30"), and the third movement, Allegretto grazioso, which sounds like a minuet in oriental garb. The outer movements, however, outstay their welcome.

The Cello Concerto, on the other hand, is required listening for Hovhaness admirers. The composer destroyed several hundred of his compositions during a period of self-reflection in the early 1940s, but the Cello Concerto survived the cull, finally receiving its première in 1999 (by the same forces heard on this recording). The music’s modal tinge is pure Hovhaness, but there is a spareness to the writing that sets this work apart from its successors. Indeed, the tone is unrelievedly elegiac, making the Elgar Concerto seem positively jovial by comparison. János Starker brings sad nobility to the ruminative solo part, and Dennis Russell Davies makes the most of the Das Lied von der Erde-like orchestral texture in a warmly recommended disc.

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