Song of Democracy (1957) 13.04
Merry Mount Suite (1934) 16.12.
Symphony No. 2 The Romantic (1930) 27.42
Mormon Youth Chorus and
Rec Mormon Tabernacle, Utah,
1972 CITADEL CTD 88110 [60.47]
Hanson's representation on disc is pretty comprehensive. The CD age has smiled
benignly on his music. His own recordings of the first four of the seven
symphonies were in circulation on LP (Mercury) and in fact No. 5 was available
on a rare Eastman Rochester Archive (ERA) vinyl disc during the 1970s and
1980s. The Mercury vinyl discs were put onto CD and are still available.
They have a stern gritty impact all their own as does the masterful Lament
of Beowulf. These are supplemented by Delos's splendid series conducted
by Gerard Schwarz completed before that company ran out of sponsorship. The
Schwarz cycle is available on two midprice 'twofers'.
How do the present recordings stack up? In terms of sound they are of staggering
fidelity. The analogue tapes are of considerable aural depth and realism
no doubt brought out to good effect by the 20 bit digital transfer. The sense
of occasion and of atmosphere is almost tangible. There is some audience
noise but the usual countervailing advantage applies in the intensity of
the music making. The stand-out champion here is the Song of Democracy
which easily outstrips the previous commercial recording from Hanson
himself. The slightly sentimental American patriotic text is sung with burnished
conviction and with a clarity of diction that leaves other, more venerated,
choirs in the shadows. For such a large body of voices to enunciate with
such precision, clarity and feeling is a major achievement. The conviction
of the singers speaks of a more innocent age - although it was 1972!
The choir and orchestra had been extensively coached by the Utah City's resident
conductor but with at least one rehearsal directed by Hanson himself. Hanson,
in his brief speech, to the audience is full of vigour and twinkling humour
(he pitches an aside at Pittsburgh) as well as patriotism for the adopted
country of his Swedish parents.
While this version of The Song of Democracy would be my first choice
the accounts of the Second Symphony and Merry Mount Suite are not such clear
choices. The Second Symphony, in particular, did not, for me, have the intensity
of Charles Gerhardt's superb but venerable (1967) Chesky recording. It seemed
comparatively stilted - lacking the fluency and edge-of-seat zest of the
Gerhardt. I thought that there was an element of caution from the young players.
The Merry Mount suite went with élan - a stronger performance.
However it must take second place to the Delos version. What we must hope
for now is that the rumoured modern recording of the full opera will be issued.
I know from hearing the Naxos version of the Tibbett-led 1930s premiere that
the work is more dramatic than the lightish suite would suggest. The climax
of the love duet movement from the suite is however passionately built by
Hanson and his prentice players.
A recommendable disc then and in sound of world-beating quality. If the second
symphony had been of a less cautious performance this disc would have scored
very highly indeed. As it is it should not be missed by any Hanson-phile.
It documents Hanson conducting his music very late in his career. It is not
quite the latest - for that you need to go to the Bay Cities CD of his conducting
of the Seventh Symphony.
*******Soundtracks from Citadel and Bay Cities********
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