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Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
Symphony No. 1 in E minor Op. 21 Nordic (1923) [26:42]
Symphony No. 2 Op. 30 Romantic (1930) [27:54]
The Song of Democracy (1957) [12:04]
Eastman School of Music Chorus/Dr Herman H Genhart
Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra/Howard Hanson
rec. Eastman Theatre Rochester, New York, 6 May 1957 (Song); 4 May 1958 (2); 16 Dec 1958 (1). ADD
Notes in English. Photos of composer/conductor.
Hybrid SACD playable on SACD players and CD players

MERCURY LIVING PRESENCE 475 6181 [66:40]



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Comparison Recordings:
Hanson: Symphonies 1 and 2; Song; Hanson, E-RSO, Philips Mercury Living Presence [ADD] CD 432 008-2
Hanson: Symphony No. 2, "Romantic," Hanson, E-RSO, CBS monophonic LP [OP]
Hanson: Symphony No. 2, "Romantic," L. Slatkin, St. Louis SO EMI CDC 47850
Hanson: Symphony No. 2, "Romantic," G. Schwarz, Seattle SO Delos DCD 3073 [OP. tape now owned by Naxos]

I loved the Romantic Symphony long before I knew what it was, as the opening crescendo served as the sound track to "Rocketship XM," one of the first science fiction movies about a trip to Mars. The composer’s monophonic LP for CBS was very popular during the forties and fifties and came as close as possible to making the composer well known. His later (and earlier) music was more conventionally modern and of considerably less inspiration. Much of it is worth hearing once or maybe twice. Hanson was pretty well known as a one-work composer most of his life and that evaluation will probably continue.

The Romantic Symphony is a superb work, tending to follow the early Dvořák mould of theme-and-repetitions-in-different-colours. Constructed entirely on two motifs — a rising minor third scale, and a mordant followed by a descending third, and all possible inversions, permutations, combinations, and concatenations of these, including the arpeggiated fifth and seventh — the composer creates the impression of rolling waves of delicious ‘Rachmaninovskian’ melody, a knack he could have learnt from Telemann. The work is generally considered, along with the Barber First and the William Schuman Third, among the very greatest* of the American Symphonies. Lasting a full 26 minutes, it always seems to be finished almost at once.

The fillers on the disk are the inevitable ones, little better than endurable, but nobody would put up with a 26-minute CD. The First Symphony begins with a vaguely Rachmaninov sounding motif, but quickly moves into the Chadwick-Loeffler-MacDowell-Griffes mould showing just who were the composer’s musical heroes. The "Song" has nothing tuneful about it, being a rather rhetorical choral setting of some Whitman texts. This release is unfortunately timed since Americans preaching about democracy is the funniest comedy act currently playing on the world scene.

It’s nice to be verified a prophet; it was in 1960 that I first predicted in a magazine article that these Mercury Living Presence tapes would be made available some day in three-channel sound, and here they are. Three channels means just that; no rear channel information, but an independent front centre channel. What your surround sound processor might make of that I don’t know, because my sound equipment, however many options it offers, will not play an SACD in fake surround sound. I am inferring from the various other tracks what the perspective would be like, and on that basis I suspect it would be quite worthy. But you won’t be interested in the three channel version of this recording unless your front speakers are large and all of equally impressive quality, and then you will have a heavily centre-weighted perspective. If, like me, you have two really good corner speakers with a dialogue speaker for your centre channel, you will get the best sound from the SACD two channel version, and that sound will be very fine indeed.

The Slatkin version is excellent and in digital sound and offers a much more interesting coupling in the Barber Violin Concerto. Mercury would have done better coupling this Second Symphony recording with their archive monophonic recording of Hanson’s Fifth Symphony, a much more worthy composition. However for sheer sonic beauty, this SACD has the prize for the present. Even though I know the CD issue of these tapes very well, at once upon listening to the SACD tracks I heard new orchestral detail. If Naxos should release the Schwarz Seattle Symphony version on a DVD-Audio, then perhaps we would take another look at the ranking.

Even on my "C" music system I could hear a slightly improved quality to the CD tracks on this Hybrid SACD compared to earlier CD-only release. That is not by any means always the case.

*Most critics add the Roy Harris Third Symphony, but I’m not convinced. The Ives Symphonies are not rationally comparable to anything else.

Paul Shoemaker

see also review by Rob Barnett



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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