Alan Hovhaness would have been 100 this year, and for this occasion Delos is releasing American Mystic. Embracing his Armenian heritage, Hovhaness (1911-2000) studied a vast array of Eastern musical cultures, from Greece to Japan, South Korea to India, through a series of prestigious fellowships. The unique thing about this is that Hovhaness didn’t only limit his knowledge to the theory of the abovementioned musics, but he also learned how to play many instruments too (he was apparently quite proficient on the veena).
This new Delos CD is a beautiful collection of meditations, some intimate, some more monumental (it might sound antithetical but Hovhaness is that good). On the intimate side, one finds the delightful 4 Bagatelles, Op. 30, or his String Quartet No. 2, Op. 147 (only two movements are available: I and V). Performed impeccably by the Shanghai Quartet, the Bagatelles are evocative miniatures (3 min for the longest) reminiscent of Eastern folk themes or even lullabies. The two movements taken from the second string quartet composed in 1966 are somehow bolder and more spiritual albeit still modal in essence.