Hovhaness, Wood & Keller: Orchestral Works
The Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra; William Strickland, conductor;
Asahi Orchestra of Tokyo; Richard Korn, conductor

Meditation on Orpheus, scored for full symphony orchestra, is typical of Alan Hovhaness’ work in the delicate construction of its sonorities. A single, pianissimo tam-tam note, a tone from a solo horn, an evanescent pizzicato murmur from the violins (senza misura)—these ethereal elements tinge the sound of the middle and lower strings at the work’s beginning and evoke an ambience of mysterious dignity and sensuousness which continues and grows throughout the Meditation. At intervals, a strange rushing sound grows to a crescendo and subsides, interrupting the flow of smooth melody for a moment, and then allowing it to resume, generally with a subtle change of scene. The senza misura pizzicato which is heard at the opening would seem to be the germ from which this unusual passage has grown, for the “rushing” sound—dynamically intensified at each appearance—is produced by the combination of fast, metrically unmeasured figurations, usually played by the strings. The composer indicates not that these passages are to be played in 2/4, 3/4, etc. but that they are to last “about 20 seconds, ad lib.” The notes are to be “rapid but not together.” They produce a fascinating effect, and somehow give the impression that other worldly significances are hidden in the juxtaposition of flow and mystical interruption. Hovhaness has produced many compellingly evocative works, and the Meditation on Orpheus belongs with the finest of them.

If one were to place a stylistic label on the music of Joseph Wood, “neo-romantic” would be the one which would come to mind. Certainly, the Poem for Orchestra, which was completed in April of 1950, would fit comfortably into that category. It is a mellifluous work, suave in orchestral usage, and full of accessible melody. But this tells only part of the story, for, in addition, the Poem is as neatly organized thematically as it is harmonically warm. Not one bar is superfluous, not one idea fails in its duty of thematically integrating with the work as a whole. For all its feeling of simpleness, the work is spare and tight. There is no inflation, no sprawling, no sign of anything less than the highest level of compositional care.

For the world premiere of his Symphony No. 3, by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, composer Homer Keller provided the following description of the work:

Movement I. The Allegro risoluto tersely states two themes. The first is introduced by the trombones; the second is given out by the solo oboe. After woodwind and solo horn comment, a fugal treatment, mainly of the first theme, leads to the movement’s climax and thence to a recapitulation of both themes.

Movement II. The slow movements (two and four) are contemplative and poetic in spirit. By contrast with the close-knit statements and developments which characterized the other movements, in these, one idea leads freely to the next. In the second (Andante), the sequence of events leads from a chordal string idea, through a section consisting of solo bits scattered throughout the orchestra, a short string aria, a hymn-like section, a somewhat livelier section with a folksong and dance flavor, to a returning statement of the first chordal string idea.

Movement III. The Allegro giusto is a short, folk-like dance based on material from the Allegro risoluto movement.


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Japan Philharmonic Orchestra

Hovhaness, Wood & Keller: Orchestral Works

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Track Listing

Meditation on Orpheus
Alan Hovhaness
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Poem for Orchestra
Joseph Wood
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Symphony No. 3: Symphony No. 3: I. Allegro risoluto
Homer Keller
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Symphony No. 3: Symphony No. 3: II. Andante
Homer Keller
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Symphony No. 3: Symphony No. 3: III. Allegro giusto
Homer Keller
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Symphony No. 3: Symphony No. 3: IV. Andante tranquillo
Homer Keller
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Symphony No. 3: Symphony No. 3: V. Allegro con spirito
Homer Keller
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