HOVHANESS: "From the Ends of the Earth"
SCHNITTKE: Twelve Penitential Psalms. Stimmen der Natur.
WAGNER: Symphony in C, WWV 29. Symphony in E, WWV 35. Huldigungsmarsch,
W.W.V. 97. Rienzi Overture. Kaisermarsch, W.W.V. 104
Here are two distinctive choral disks. The first is a generous collection of music of Alan Hovhaness, the major work being the 22-minute Simple Mass, Op. 282. This was composed in 1975, commissioned by the Catholic Church (which never paid for it). Hovhaness did not consider himself to be a religious person, his music being more "spiritual" than "liturgical." However, all of this music has his unique blend of traditional music of many countries, particularly Armenia; he was born in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1911 to an Armenian father and Scottish mother. Most of this music will be new to listeners, and we are fortunate to have these dedicated performances beautifully recorded. Engineers have highly successfully captured the warmth and resonance of Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Maine. Full texts are provided.
Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) wrote 9 symphonies, 4 violin concertos, 2 cello concertos, 3 piano concertos, ballets, 4 string quartets, 3 operas and music for solo singers as well as for chorus. His spiritual side can be heard on this Hänssler disk containing two major works for chorus, Stimmen der Natur (Voices of Nature) for ten women's voices and vibraphone, composed in 1972, and Twelve Penitential Psalms written in 1988, scored for mixed choir. The latter reflects Schnittke's interest in Russian Orthodox chants as well as Gregorian chant to texts in a collection of writings of Ancient Russia from the second half of the sixteenth century. All of this music is compelling and performed to perfection. It must be incredibly difficult to perform, and kudos to the SWR Chorus and their director for the magnificent sounds they produce. CD notes by Annette Eckerle are difficult to understand, but complete texts are provided in German, English and Russian. The unidentified engineers have done their job well, providing a rich choral sound perfect for the repertory.
Early in his career, Richard Wagner had keen interest in writing purely symphonic music. His Symphony in C, composed in 1832 when he was but 19, supposedly was inspired by the symphonies of Beethoven. However, this symphony is surely one of the most boring pieces ever written by a major composer, and does not suggest the power and majesty of Wagner's later works. Only the first movement of the E major symphony was completed by Wagner; sketches for the second were orchestrated by Felix Josef von Mottl at the request of Cosima Wagner three years after the composer's death. Two pompous marches also are included, Huldigungsmarch written in 1864 for the birthday of King Ludwig of Bavaria. and Kaisermarsch which dates from 1871 and includes the Lutheran chorals Ein feste Burg. The familiar overture to Rienzi completes this disk and is the only music that suggests the grandeur of Wagner's later masterpieces. Järvi and the fine Scottish orchestra do what can be done with this music, but this is only for the curious. The Chandos audio is similar to what is heard on previous Järvi Wagner releases, rich, warm but not particularly surround.
R.E.B. (March 2012)