Vivace Records 
The classical music division of K2B2 RECORDS

Hovhaness - Alder String Quartet

A splendid, valuable disc of chamber music by Alan Hovhaness. For the Bagatelles and the Fourth Quartet, competition comes in the form of the Shanghai Quartet on Delos 3162, where they couple four string quartets and the Bagatelles with a work by Zhou Long entitled Song of the Ch’in.
Although both the Alder Quartet and the Shanghai Quartet are wonderfully emotive in the initial Bagatelle (an Andante), it is the Alder Quartet that captures the true Allegro molto, slightly disturbed edge to the second Bagatelle (the Shanghai Quartet sounds almost staid in comparison). Certainly the Alder Quartet is fresher than the Shanghai Quartet here, just as they capture the bitter-sweet heart of the third Bagatelle (Andante) better. The slightly shadowy feel to the opening Andante section of the final Bagatelle is magnificent with the Alder Quartet.
The Third and Fourth Quartets cohabit in Hovhaness’ op. 208; in the present instance, we hear the Fourth. The lamenting gestures of some of the first movement (Adagio ma non troppo) speak volumes, as does the sense of open space (the sustained notes with pizzicato around them that close the movement are particularly effective). The jaunty, folksy fugue subject of the quartet’s central panel makes for a terrifically pleasant experience. Lest that come across as damning with faint praise, let it be stated that the compositional skill required to achieve such a result while delivering a fully-fledged, accomplished fugue is not to be sniffed at. The Alder Quartet plays with a lovely light touch, such that the final, radiant arrival seems perfectly natural; the Shangai’s account is rather more determined, shoehorning the material into an academic form. The finale moves from Adagio through Andante con moto to Allegro. The plaintive lines of that Adagio are beautifully managed here, as is the tinge of nostalgia; there’s also a little more character than the Shangai Quartet manages, not to mention some superb shadings of phrase.
The ruminative opening “Andante espressivo” of the Cello Sonata finds cellist Buell Neidlinger in expansive form; pianist Sheila Weidendorf is if anything even finer, her way with texture a continual source of joy. This is true of her perfectly judged pedalling of the central “Grazioso” (the cello takes something of a back seat initially). If Neidlinger’s tone is not the most ingratiating in the longer lines of the finale (“Prayer”), he is nevertheless expressive. This appears to be the only currently available version of the op. 255 Cello Sonata.
Finally, and going way back in terms of opus number, the op. 3 Piano Trio, a work dedicated to Sibelius. Certainly there is an openness of texture to the opening Allegro moderato that might reflect Sibelian technique; the central panel is marked “Adagio espressivo con doppio canone” and is a wonderful example of technique with canon fostering pure expression. The work continues the contrapuntal idea with a “Fuga” finale that might best be described with the somewhat nebulous term, “semi-jaunty”. Certainly the three excellent musicians here handle the movement with great care. Of all the works on this disc, this is the one that is the most fascinating. Perhaps the end is a little quick in coming and inconclusive, but nevertheless this work offers much food for thought.
Both the Cello Sonata and the Piano Trio appear to be the only currently available versions. The disc came to me in a cardboard slipcase with no booklet notes at all unless one counts the two quotations on the back cover, one from the composer himself (referring to the Fourth Quartet, or more accurately the tree that inspired it) and one from Virgil Thompson, recommending Hovhaness’ music. True, the playing time of this disc is low, and there is the paucity of documentation to contend with, but the quality of the music is very high indeed.
-Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine

Extraordinary - so different from the others. . . calm, introspective, meditative. The true spirit of Hovhaness comes through, as well as the dynamics he has written. These performances are Grammy Award quality. . . and then some.
- customer review

The Four Bagatelles for String Quartet starts so romantically - almost magical with a great emotional folk feeling and also chant-like, ending with the great sliding pizzicatto of cellist Buell Neidlinger.
The String Quartet #4 has a rich cello quality, a nice Prayer movement with an organ-like sound in the orchestral "Holy Mountain" mode with great bass-line writing. Second violinist Steve Cresswell beautifully brings out the cleaqr Fugato entrances. The last movement has a nice quartet sound with very matching voice balancing. A terrific Fugato again.
The Sonata for Violoncello shines with Sheila Weidendorf's beautiful harp-like arpeggios. This piece is very atmospheric, with both instruments singing down to their lower ranges with deep sonority.
Finally, the very classical Trio features nice Cantus Firmus and Uplifting Spirits. The performance, dedication and exploration of music not heard enough (in fact - the Sonata and Trio are world premiere recordings) enthralls the listener with repeated listening.
-Haim Strum

Alan Hovhaness: Four Bagatelles For String Quartet Op. 30
I-Andante II-Allegro Molto III-Andante IV-Andante; Allegro; Allegretto.
String Quartet No. 4 "Under the Ancient Maple Tree" Op.208 #2
I-Adagio ma non troppo II-Fugue III-Adagio; Andante con moto; Allegro
Sonata For Violoncello and Piano Op. 255
I-Andante espressivo II-Grazioso III-Prayer
Buell Neidlinger - 'cello     Sheila Weidendorf - piano.
Trio Op. 3 dedicated to Jean Sibelius
I-Allegro II-Grazioso III- Prayer
Susan Baer - violin, Buell Neidlinger, 'cello, Sheila Weidendorf, piano.
Total Playing Time: 49:24

Alder String Quartet:
Susan Baer & Steve Cresswell- violins; Roxanna Patterson- viola; Buell Neidlinger- 'cello

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