HOVHANESS:  Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain, Op. 132.  Symphony No. 66, Hymn to Glacier Peak, Op. 428.  Symphony No. 50, Mount St. Helens, Op. 360.  Storm on Mount Wildcat, Op. 2 No. 3.
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orch/Gerard Schwarz, cond.
TELARC CD 60604 TT:  71:45


When Telarc released this disc two months ago, I was recovering from surgery that limited the use of one arm and what time could be spent at the computer, when it was possible to spend any at all. I didn't even know it had been recorded, much less by Telarc, until I accessed the Liverpool website to see what friend Gerald Schwarz was up to. Meanwhile, R.E.B. posted a review on this website of the SACD version that I overlooked. When asked if I could review it, he most kindly contacted Telarc and suggested a second review of the two-channel CD version.

Hovhaness' background is covered in R.E.B's review, and his conclusions about the music are spot-on. Actually, apart from the duality of releases in DSD and SACD, this is Schwarz's second recording of Mysterious Mountain (written as Symphony No. 2 for Stokowski's first concert at Houston in 1955, until Stoky said, "Give the dog a name," Off the top of his head Hovhaness bestowed the title by which it has become his best-known work). Just a decade ago Jerry recorded it for Delos in Seattle, and also Mount St. Helens (a.k.a. Symphony No. 50, Op. 360), issued on an earlier disc following the first local performances in May 1990. This is also Telarc's second Mysterious Mountain just six years after a 1997 version by Jesús López-Cobos and the Cincinnati Symphony. For the record, Dennis Russell Davies did it with the American Composers Orchestra on Music Masters (oddly somnambulistic), while Andrew Litton made one at Dallas in 1995, which Dorian included in "An American Tapestry." But the pioneering version of Mysterious Mountain was Fritz Reiner's in 1958 with the Chicago Symphony, which RCA remastered in 1995 for its "Living Stereo" series, produced by the late Jack Pfeiffer, whimsically coupled with Stravinsky's Divertimento from The Fairy's Kiss and Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kizhéh Suite. I once owned but didn't keep the Davies/ACO (with Lou Harrison's Symphony No. 2 as a partner), and never did hear the Litton account or Telarc's Cincinnati version.

But Reiner and Schwarz have both remained on the shelves, and were illuminating to hear again after the Liverpool performance, spaciously recorded with plenty of impact at climaxes in the DSD version, with the bonus of clearly defined divisi violins ≠ firsts on the left, seconds opposite. Seattle's violins were divided, too, but the 1993 recording now sounds comparatively opaque on updated equipment. If it reappears on Naxos, a remastering will be interesting to hear but not interpretively competitive with Liverpool, very well played, or Reinerís still-peerless version. (Will JVC include it, I wonder, among future XRCD2 remasterings of RCA's original three-track tapes?). Whereas Reiner clocked in at 19:08,
Schwarz-I took exactly 17 minutes. A decade later, however, Schwarz-II had become 19:23. Except for the concluding Andante espressivo movement, 5:51 in both versions, Reiner's first movement is 15 seconds quicker and his middle movement 10 seconds so. Furthermore, his Double Fugue in the second movement has a thrust and virtuosity that are startling after Schwarz's readings (5:31 ten years ago; 5:50 in August 1992, when producer Robert Woods and his esteemed engineer Jack Renner recorded this 72-minute disc). Reiner never conducted another Hovhaness piece, presumably because Mysterious Mountain said most eloquently what he found less coherent in other works.

Certainly it surpasses, as a unity, the three other "Mountain" pieces on Schwarz's disc, despite moments of beauty that go nowhere except in Hovhaness' fugues. The codicil, Storm on Mount Wildcat in New Hampshire, is a three-and-a-half minute relic of the composerís 20th year, not one of the thousand works he burned in 1942 but might as well have ≠ it simply starts noisily until it stops. Hymn to Glacier Peak, his penultimate "symphony" from 1991, contains echoes of middle- eastern, Hindic and Japanese music but nothing, truth to tell, that suggests Washington''s Cascades range. The contents of Mount St. Helens (16 symphonies and 68 opus numbers earlier) could be interchangable until a Big Bang signals the mountain's volcanic eruption in the third and final movement, which segues to a double-fugue heralding the dawn of a new day. Despite admiration for Mysterious Mountain, 72 minutes of Hovhaness' music in a single sitting is rather like eating an entire gallon of pistachio ice-cream. It doesn't really tickle the taste-buds after several pleasant spoonfuls. Hovhaness' fans, however, should find pleasure in Telarc's four mountain pieces, imposingly recorded ≠ with a slight gain boost necessary, however ≠ on a conventional CD.

R.D. (June 2003)