Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 21, The Nordic, (1922)
"Merry Mount" Suite, (1938)
Symphonic Poem - Pan and the Priest, Op. 26 (1925/6)
Rhythmic Variations on Two Ancient Hymns

Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Schermerhorn
recorded 20/4/99 and 24/10/99, in the Andrew Jackson Hall, Tennessee Performing Arts Centre Nashville. DDD
NAXOS 8.559072 [60.56]

Here is a genuine American composer who writes in a Scandinavian style (his ancestors were Swedish). Hanson had a long and distinguished career as composer, teacher, administrator and conductor. He developed the Eastman Rochester Orchestra into a first rate ensemble, making many recordings of primarily American works for the Mercury label in the 1960/70s.

What we have now is Naxos doing much the same thing for American music, but using a variety of ensembles from various parts of the world. Sometimes this approach does not quite work, as there is a distinctive rhythmic pattern to many American works in which foreign orchestras don't quite seem completely at home. We don't have a problem with this issue however, as the orchestra is American, and the work does not display American characteristics to any great extent. The Nashville Symphony Orchestra (for which this is its Naxos debut) is a first rate ensemble, strong in all areas, and with a vitality in its playing (under music director Kenneth Schermerhorn) which I find most attractive. The sleeve note promises more discs from the orchestra, and I eagerly await hearing these.

Competition comes from Gerard Schwarz (Seattle Symphony) on Delos, and Howard Hanson himself (Eastman Rochester Orchestra) on Mercury. The Hanson recording is unique as often composer lead recordings are, but it is missing from the current Philips catalogue. So we are left with Gerard Schwarz in a superb modern recording on Delos.

Schermerhorn shows up extremely well in comparison with Schwarz, the recording quality as good as the more expensive issue. The major point of issue is the finale of the symphony which under Schwarz is an orchestral tour de force whereas on Naxos, the atmosphere is much less exciting. However this is the interpretation rather than the Tennessee orchestra being stretched, so I would urge you to listen to the comparative recordings at this point to decide.

The price of the Naxos issue may be the deciding factor, plus its easy availability. Indeed at the slightly slower tempo, the symphony takes on a more craggy atmosphere, and given the title of the work this may not be a bad thing.

The couplings are the suite from the opera "Merry Mount", a tale of witchcraft and sexual obsession in seventeenth century New England, Pan and the Priest and the Rhythmic Variations on Two Ancient Hymns. Both are very tuneful and very worth an outing, but the main item of interest is the Symphony. Inspired by Sibelius, and written in Italy, where the composer was being taught by Respighi, the symphony has a northern grandeur which I find very satisfying. We often hear critics mentioning how exceptional the first symphonies of composers such as Tchaikovsky and Sibelius are. Whilst I would hesitate to put Hanson's in such exalted company, the comments about first symphonies apply in abundance.

Well done Naxos and the Tennessee forces - more please!

John Phillips

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