Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Song of Democracy (1957) 13.04
Merry Mount Suite (1934) 16.12.
Symphony No. 2 The Romantic (1930) 27.42
Mormon Youth Chorus and Orchestra/Howard Hanson
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.


Rob Barnett

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Rob Barnett

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