Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000)

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Neidorff-Karpati Hall, Manhattan School of Music, New York City

Before packing his suitcase for conducting dates in Spain, Poland, Ireland and France, with repertoire including Bartók (with Bavouzet), Britten, Chopin (Achúcarro), Copland, Ligeti, Respighi, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Vaughan Williams, Leonard Slatkin returned to the Manhattan School of Music for this tasty programme, opening with Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington’s Three Black Kings (Balthazar; Solomon; Martin Luther King) which was left unfinished at Ellington’s death in 1974. the score completed by his son Mercer, arranged by Luther Henderson, then edited and orchestrated by Maurice Peress, his version used here. Starting with hypnotic pulses, the opening suggests a railroad journey, with lyricism that Previn might have put his name to, then some laidback jazz, becoming high-octane – featuring trumpet and saxophone solos, both confidently taken by MSM members – before something cooler then syncopated changes the mood during which Three Black Kings strives for the stars. This engaging twenty-minute piece. despite the unavoidable contributors needed to make it performable, comes across as the music Ellington would have ultimately composed, given with plenty of swing in Manhattan.

Regarding The B-Sides Mason Bates says, “Like the forgotten bands from the flipside of an old piece of vinyl, The B-Sides offers brief landings on a variety of peculiar planets, unified by a focus on fluorescent orchestral sonorities and the morphing rhythms of electronica. The work is equally informed by Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra as it is by a variety of American vernacular music.” Written for the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas, Bates’s five pieces exhibit stellar sonorities as well as slinky dance moves with transporting textures conjuring places that are inviting to visit and return to.

The prolific Alan Hovhaness’s Stokowski-premiered Symphony No.2 (there are sixty-seven Symphonies and 434 opus numbers, with some other works not catalogued) is better known as ‘Mysterious Mountain’ and was afforded a celebrated late-1950s’ recording conducted by Fritz Reiner. In three movements (which sometimes remind of Charles Ives’s Symphony No.3 (‘The Camp Meeting’) and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia, both 1910), the outer ones enchant, the first paints pastoral scenes of community hymn-singing (with flickers of magic dust in the orchestration), the other is meditative and chimes mystically, with the middle one gently swaying before some folk-fiddling fires things along, all elements safely gathered in by Slatkin.

Finally, An American in Paris, a Gershwin masterpiece central to Slatkin’s repertoire, here fresh and bang-on, scrupulously detailed and idiomatically expressed, whether the ebullience of the bustling city (car-horns prominent) or a moonlit stroll along a tree-lined boulevard to frequent a nightclub jam session. Slatkin’s route-map was unfailing, the talented students well-prepared and enthusiastic, as throughout this diverting concert.

Slatkin’s next visit to MSM is January, with the public performance, on the 24th, including Elgar’s Enigma Variations.