Works for Violin/Viola and Keyboard
Christina Fong/Arved Ashby
The nine pieces on this disk—one piece of juvenilia, seven pieces from between 1944 and 1954, and one work of 1962—constitute everything Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) wrote for fiddle, with or without piano or harpsichord. All but the two most recent compositions—even the piece he wrote when he was eleven—are in Hovhaness’s patented “Eastern Regions” style. He was deeply influenced by the musics of India and central Asia as well as that of his favored Armenia and there is a heavy folkloristic influence to most of his output. Hovhaness was extremely prolific, so it is a bit surprising that there was nothing but this hour of music for violinist Christina Fong and pianist Arved Ashby to release (they tried and failed to get permission to include at least one unpublished work). Several of these pieces are slight (although the fifteen-minute “Saris” is about ten minutes too long): “Shatakh” strikes me as something that could have been used for a meditative entracte to a discarded melancholy scene in Fiddler on the Roof. But all the works here are at least pleasant, and most of the playing is superb. “Chahagir,” for unaccompanied viola is probably the most dramatic work of the bunch, sorrowful and passionate without repetitively bludgeoning an “exotic” scale (or containing any hammered open fifth accompaniments), the sort of thing that, during “Saris,” will likely nudge a few listeners in the direction of their fast-forward buttons. Hovhaness provides a lighter (for him) foray into “modern” eclectism with his clever 1952 “Duet for Violin and Harpsichord,” but he returns to a more somber (perhaps slightly Amramian?) mode with his 1962 “Three Visions of Saint Mesrob,” which is quite lovely. Ashby’s playing could, I think, be a bit less heavy (and less sloppy) in a couple of places, but its emotional depth and clarity of vision more than make up for any occasional technical shortfalls. Fong’s restrained passion and beauty of tone are perhaps shown to best effect on “Chahagir” and the unaccompanied violin piece “Yeraz.” I also like her performance of the Blochian harmonics on the little “Khirgiz Suite,” with its two touching movements for violin and gently rippling piano (the silly third movement is probably best skipped). Fong, Ashby and the OgreOgress label are to be congratulated for putting out this enjoyable, if often mournful, disc.