Hovhaness: Symphony No 48... / Schwarz

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Alan Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 48 is subtitled “Vision of Andromeda”, and anyone who has seen the Hubble photos of our neighboring galaxy knows just how...
Alan Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 48 is subtitled “Vision of Andromeda”, and anyone who has seen the Hubble photos of our neighboring galaxy knows just how gorgeous that must be. For years I used one of those magnificent vistas as my computer’s screen saver. This four-movement symphony, lasting just under half an hour, is typical Hovhaness. There are lovely, modal fugues in the second movement and finale; evocative, vaguely oriental melodies all over the place; luscious string chorales, and interludes for bells and tam-tam. Check out the opening of the finale. Fabulous, isn’t it? Does it do justice to Hovhaness’ “vision”? It’s plausible.

The truth is, Hovhaness always has had his detractors. Bernstein rather maliciously called his First Symphony “ghetto music” (which would be a compliment today), and his 67 symphonies and other works can sound rather the same–but then, so does a lot of Bach. For me anyway, there’s something disarming about his childlike joy in consonant harmony, in the fluidity of his fugal writing, and his utter unconsciousness of the fact that his melodies often tread dangerously close to kitsch. Say what you will, his music is unfailingly honest. It is what it is.

There are also moments where it achieves an astonishing, passionate intensity. The Prelude and Quadruple Fugue is, in its way, a masterpiece in considering the means by which it accumulates energy as each distinctively-wrought fugue subject enters and gets combined with its predecessors. It’s so clear, so easy to follow, and so much fun that you entirely forget the sophisticated contrapuntal mind at work behind the scenes. And that is as it should be.

The Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Strings also sounds vividly tuneful and unfailingly attractive. When Hovhaness calls the finale, perhaps naively, Let The Living and The Celestial Sing, it’s easy to scoff, but the music is just so bloody pretty. Greg Banaszak plays the solo part with the suave timbre that the work requires, especially in the Adagio espressivo at the start of the second movement, while Hovhaness specialist Gerard Schwarz does his usual fine job with all three works, galvanizing the players of the Eastern Music Festival Orchestra to a welcome degree of corporate integrity. It helps, of course, that Hovhaness’ music is as straightforward to play as it is to hear. Beautiful.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Release Date: February 10, 2015

  • UPC: 636943975527

  • Catalog Number: 8559755

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Alan Hovhaness

  • Conductor: Gerard Schwarz

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Eastern Music Festival Orchestra

  • Performer: Greg Banaszak