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Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
Fanfare for the Signal Corps (1943) [1:08]
Merry Mount Suite (1933) [15:00]
Bold Island Suite (1961) [23:51]
Symphony No. 2 Romantic (1930) [25:56]
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/Erich Kunzel
rec. Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, 8 Sept 2004. DDD
TELARC CD-80649 [66:12]

This disc arrived not long after I had finished my review of the Hanson conducts Hanson box (Mercury). The Mercury Living Presence sound from 1956-65 is unmistakable and undeniably vivid and exciting. That box overlaps with this disc with the Symphony and the Merry Mount suite. If you hanker for a single disc collection in modern digital sound you will find this an exciting alternative. The Mercury sound is certainly gripping but it cannot be as wide-ranging as that offered here.

This disc is not just for those who want a single disc Hanson anthology on their shelves. The presence of the fleetingly short Fanfare for the Signal Corps and the Bold Island Suite make this unmissable.

The stirring mood-setter Fanfare is Hanson's contribution to the collection of wartime fanfares commissioned by Goossens during 1942 and premiered in Cincinnati on 2 April 1943. It would be good to hear the whole sequence of commissions which was available on a Koch International disc back in 2001.

The Merry Mount Suite has been recorded by Hanson and by Schwarz for Delos. Kunzel is a more artful constructor of tension and this pays off in the climactic moments. The recording is detailed and natural sounding.

The Bold Island Suite is late Hanson written in 1961 for Szell and Cleveland. It has more of an emotional pulse than Mosaics also written for the same artists. Bold Island, Maine was Hanson's summer retreat. The first movement Birds of the Sea is a masterful meld of birdsong and triumphant statement. Summer Seascape is the central movement built on a breathing motif for woodwind but this is a motif with a warm heroic latency. Hanson explores this with satisfying natural potency and sets it against an almost Finzian string cantilena at 3:07. God in Nature is the finale. It starts with a starkly metronomic brass statement of a hymn he had written to words by Ambrose of Milan - it is both severe and yielding. Hanson builds from it music of gruffly aggressive excitement which then subsides into a Franciscan bird fantasy (5:23) which breathes rebirth and links with the birdsong of the first movement. The denouement is a stock Hansonian gesture but effective nonetheless. This is definitely worth exploring. Hansonians should on no account miss it.

The Bold Island Suite here receives its world premiere commercial recording.

The Second Symphony is the most recorded of the seven. Hanson recorded it for 78s in the 1940s then again in stereo for Mercury in the 1950s. There are recordings by Charles Gerhardt (still the best - Chesky review), Schwarz (Delos), Slatkin (EMI Classics) and the little known Montgomery (Arte Nova - surprisingly good when taken as slow as this). The composer also recorded it with an American youth orchestra and this can be heard on Citadel. Kunzel's is a better than good performance silkily recorded but it is not as remorselessly driven as the composer's on Mercury (as part of the box and on both CD and SACD) nor as elemental as Gerhardt's on Chesky. Kunzel certainly takes full heed of the cues for tender feeling in the andante con tenerezza and drives the adrenaline count up high for the finale. The way he articulates the brass line, especially the rolling rasp of the french horns in the finale, is distinctive and works well.

This is a fine addition to the Hanson library and all concerned are to be congratulated for reviving the Bold Island suite is a real discovery.

Rob Barnett



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