Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A welcome addition to the Hovhaness discography

From March 17, 2015:


I admit to an almost insatiable liking for Alan Hovhaness’s bells and chimes and deep brass and long-winded, big tunes played by the strings. This is great considering that he wrote more than 60 symphonies, and there are still plenty to be recorded. This is a world premiere recording of the ‘Vision of Andromeda’ symphony, no. 48, though it was written in 1982. It’s encouraging to see Gerard Schwarz as conductor, since this distinguished musician has done as much to promote Hovhaness as anyone. This is pleasing music, though, rather than profound. This is not to damn the symphony with faint praise, because I enjoyed listening to it a great deal, and more the second time than the first. To call music pleasing, especially from a period in the 20th century not especially conducive to consonance in erudite music, should never be seen as an insult.

More important, though, is the Soprano Saxophone Concerto, which presents a lyrical, tuneful solo instrument whose special timbre makes a piquant contrast to the accompanying strings. The three movements are a kind of thesis about music texture, and Hovhaness uses this relatively modest palette to good advantage in presenting a cogent, well-constructed concerto. And not a bell or chime in sight!

The Prelude and Quadruple Fugue is an unexpected novelty, outside of what one might call the Hovhaness mainstream. In this orchestral adaptation and reworking of an early string quartet, the writing is spare and the keynote is its strong forward thrust. Everything - its impressive contrapuntal writing and always interesting thematic matter - is subordinated to that movement. It rushes to its end in a very non-Eastern, non-mystic, non-Hovhaness, but very musical, way. The composer’s widow, Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness, calls it “Alan’s masterpiece”. It should be much better known; perhaps this excellent recording from North Carolina will help it take its place amongst orchestral showpieces.

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