Founded 1996 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, OgreOgress Productions is an independent label specializing in "previously unrecorded or unavailable works by well-known and emerging composers in addition to projects benefiting Tibetans in exile." This is the label's third release dedicated to American composer Alan Hovhaness. In a century dominated by Americanists and serialists who sought to craft a response to European romanticism, Hovhaness joined Cage and Cowell in blazing a third path that embraced Eastern music as the logical solution in a world that, owing to faster travel and technology, was becoming increasingly smaller.
Born to an Armenian chemistry professor in the wealthy Boston suburb of Somerville, Hovhaness pursued composition from an early age, always confident in his vision, but not in his technique. He greatly admired the stark, powerful symphonies of Sibelius, but in the early 1930s at the New England Conservatory he concentrated on developing his skill at counterpoint. Soon after graduation he began to absorb Eastern influences; he turned to Armenian and Kurdish singers, and in 1936 in Boston he attended a performance of Indian classic music -- a rare event in the West at that time.
In 1940 Hovhaness joined the Saint James Armenian Church in Watertown, Massachusetts, where he delved into the monody and modality of the Armenian liturgy; and in 1942, after being ridiculed at Tanglewood by Copland and Bernstein, he retreated to friends in Boston who urged him to pursue his true calling --- a blend of Eastern language and Western performance practice that strove to move beyond superficial compositional trickery and make profound human statements.
Hovhaness's contacts in the Armenian community and at Columbia Records helped him in his visibility, and in the 1950s and 1960s he enjoyed several commissions, recording projects, and trips to Asia, where he fell in love with Oriental music. In the early 1970s he moved to Seattle, where he established his own record label and turned to a more Western neo-romantic idiom. He continued to write into the late 1990s, completing over 400 opus numbers, including almost 70 symphonies. His prolific career perhaps put him in danger of writing the same piece more than once, but even Bernstein came around to appreciate him, later commenting that Hovhaness's music was "very, very good."
As expected, not everything in Hovhaness's oeuvre has been recorded, and here, on a single audio DVD, OgreOgress presents over two hours of his chamber music, stretching from his contrapuntal student days of the 1930s to his culminating life work of the early 1990s, including 13 premieres. The program proceeds chronologically, allowing the listener to trace his evolution as composer: the Piano Trio, Op. 3 (1935); Sonata Ricercare for Piano, Op. 23 (1935); Artinis Urarduan Sun God for piano, Op. 39 (1945); Suite for oboe and bassoon, Op. 23 (1949); Poseidon Sonata for piano, Op. 191 (1957); Bardo Sonata for piano, Op. 192 (1959); Sonatina for piano, Op 120 (1962); String Trio, Op. 201 (1962); Three Haikus for piano, Op. 113 (1965); Night of a White Cat for clarinet and piano, Op. 263 (1973); Two-Bassoon Sonata, Op.266 (1973); Two-Clarinet Sonata, )p 297 (1977); Oboe and Bassoon Sonata, Op. 302 (1977); and Solo Viola Sonata, Op. 423 (1992).
The liner notes are generous with information on every piece, but the performers and the recording location are a complete mystery. This is unfortunate, for except some slightly unrefined oboe playing, the entire production is professionally done and artistically convincing. Chamber enthusiasts will discover a treasure trove of well-written and captivating music that transcends dogmatic stylistic philosophies and touches the soul. For more information on the label visit www.ogreogress.com