Gerard Schwarz has long been a champion of Alan Hovhaness, and this release is just the latest in several Schwarz has done of his music. The album opens with the Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, Op. 128, a work that’s been recorded many times. This particular reading is adequate, but a little slow and sedate for my taste.
But then things take a turn for the better. The Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Strings is a much more successful performance. Here the Easter Music Festival Orchestra plays with fluidity and warmth that works especially well in the choral passages. Saxophonist Greg Banaszak plays with a rich, mellow sound, making the soprano sax sound almost other-worldly at times.
I keep hoping that someday we’ll have a complete traversal of Hovhaness’ 67 symphonies. Symphony No. 48 “Vision of Andromeda” receives its world premiere performance with this release, so I guess we’re a little closer.
The work gets its name (and inspiration) from the Andromeda galaxy. Like it, the symphony seems to swirl around in a gauzy blur. All the hallmarks of Hovhaness are present; the gorgeous original hymn-tunes, contrapuntal passages, the tinkling percussion, the exotic but tonal harmonic motion. It all adds up to a symphony that mystical rather than formal — simply being instead of playing out dramas. In other words, a typical Hovhaness symphony.
As always, Schwarz delivers sympathetic and insightful readings. And despite my quibbles about the Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, on the whole I think this album presents Hovhaness’ music in all its unique beauty.
I might not recommend this disc for someone who’s just starting with Hovhaness (“Mysterious Mountain” is best for that). But for those who have fallen in love with Hovhaness’ music, this disc is a must have.
Alan Hovhaness: Prelude and Quadruple Fugue, Op. 128; Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Strings Op. 344; Symphony No. 48 “Vision of Andromeda” Op. 355
Greg Banaszak, soprano saxophone; Eastern Music Festival Orchestra; Gerard Schwarz, conductor