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PERFORMING ARTS | Recordings

*** 1/2 "LOOKING TO THE EAST" Leopold Stokowski, conductor, and others, CRI

May 21, 2000|MARK SWED

Looking to the East is really looking to the West. When the ever-provincial Northeastern music establishment peers to Asia, as it so fashionably does these days, it still tends to head across the Atlantic to Europe and keep going.

But this irresistible compilation, from 1950s recordings, of an American music head-over-heels in love with Indonesian gamelans, Persian drums and Japanese flutes, happens to be by two of the West Coast's most characteristic composers--Lou Harrison and Henry Cowell--and two Easterners who headed West and stayed--Colin McPhee and Alan Hovhaness.

The highlight is Harrison's lavishly tuneful Suite for Violin, Piano and Small Orchestra played by violinist and pianist sisters Anahid and Maro Ajemian and conducted by Stokowski. Also included are McPhee's perfumed, gamelan-permeated Nocturne for orchestra and Cowell's dazzling "Homage to Iran" for violin, piano and Persian drum. Featured as well are Hovhaness' Zen-garden-flavored "Koke No Niwa"; his mystical "A Holy City" for trumpet, large chime, harp and strings; and his delightfully quaint triptych of choral religious pieces commissioned by CBS Radio in the early 1950s (those were the days!) and featuring an exquisite young Benita Valente as the solo soprano. All and all, a treasure of forgotten exotic delights by once-neglected composers who now appear visionaries.

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