American Classics - Hovhaness Symphonies 4, 20, 53 / Brion, Et Al
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Three of Alan Hovhaness' six symphonies for wind ensemble are included on this Naxos release. After hearing these, I'm eagerly waiting for the label to get to the other three. All of the ensemble playing is flawless, the many solos are ravishingly beautiful, and conductor Keith Brion's grasp of the music results in performances I can't imagine being bettered, surpassing even the classic Mercury Living Presence recording by the late Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble.
The symphonies are separated by two of the composer's works for trumpet and band, the solo part played by Scotland's great trumpeter John Wallace. He soars ecstatically above his colleagues in the Prayer of Saint Gregory, and his more varied part in Return and Rebuild the Desolate Places (the most aggressive music on the disc) achieves a threatening quality without ever losing beauty of tone.
Hovhaness' style is so distinctive, and his oeuvre so vast, that it's easy to tag him as having written the same piece over and over. And it is true that these works share many of the same elements: long, arching modal melodies, rich triadic harmonies laced with non-harmonic chiming notes, "spirit murmurs", and fluent, noble fugues. But there is enough difference in the inspiration of these works, and enough stylistic development, that you don't really get an impression of sameness. And there are many passages that haunt the memory: the flowing oboe and harp duet at the heart of the Fourth Symphony; the crossing trombone portamentos in the same work; the gorgeous fugue for all of the bell-like instruments in "Star Dawn"; the emergence from the frightening eruption that represents the "Desolate Places".
The recording was made in a church in Paisley, Scotland, and the venue contributes just the right mixture of spaciousness and intimacy to suit the music. If you are the sort of record collector who keeps alert for good new releases of unusual repertoire, this is a disc with the musical values and production quality that you always are hoping for. [1/4/2006]
--Joseph Stevenson, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: 8559207
Composer: Alan Hovhaness
Conductor: Keith Brion
Orchestra/Ensemble: Royal Scottish Academy Wind Orchestra
Performer: John Wallace