Hovhaness: Symphony No. 48 "Vision of Andromeda"

Greg Banaszak / Gerard Schwarz / Eastern Music Festival Orchestra

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Hovhaness: Symphony No. 48 "Vision of Andromeda" Review

by James Manheim

The music of the Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness has shown remarkable persistence, with its unique, Eastern-inflected style finding adherents no matter what the dominant musical ideology of the day. His style varied little over large stretches of his career, with modal, emotional (some would say kitschy) melodies woven together into big contrapuntal waves that at their best reach points of high, mystic-ecstatic intensity. Hovhaness wrote 67 symphonies that are known (so far); the Symphony No. 48, Op. 355 ("Vision of Andromeda"), here receives its world premiere, and there are plenty of other pieces awaiting premieres for orchestras that so desire. Hovhaness was known to be interested in astronomy, though it would be hard to say that the extra-galactic subject matter inspired any major changes in his style, but the symphony is an imposing four-movement work with two long, heavily contrapuntal movements (evoking floating galaxies if you work at it) framing two shorter inner movements that both have faster second sections that generate a good deal of momentum. The symphony is nicely set off by a big orchestral fugue from earlier in Hovhaness' career and a pleasant, slightly jazzy Concerto for soprano saxophone and strings, Op. 344. Conductor Gerard Schwarz, leading North Carolina's Eastern Music Festival Orchestra, seems comfortable enough with Hovhaness' style to get a big sound out of this little-known group. A distinctive item for Hovhaness fans.

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