Violin Sonata Op.5 (1939) [23:07]
Three Fancies (1946) [11:23]
Seascape (1953) [7:37]
Idyll Op.2 (1938) [7:48]
An Etching (1969) [2:06]
Legende (1946) [9:09]
Portrait of Australia Op.46 - transcr. Raymond Hanson [5:06]
David Miller (piano)
rec. EMI Studios 301, Sydney, 2007?
TALL POPPIES TP197 [60:46]
Hanson was pretty much self-taught as a composer. Born in Sydney in 1913 he taught piano amongst other things before the Second World War, which interrupted his conservatoire studies. He became a teacher of Aural Training at the New South Wales conservatorium after the war ended and a valued teacher to a generation of composers and instrumentalists. He died of a heart attack in 1976.
This bald summary doesn't prepare one for the unexpected modernity of much of Hanson's writing. The Violin Sonata Op.5 is an early work written in 1939 and still therefore a product of his self-taught compositional relative youth. It really is a sonata for violin and piano because the latter, Hanson's own instrument, is just as feisty as the fiddle. There is for instance strong chordal writing, sometimes overpoweringly so. The idiom is at times vaguely Delian harmonically, though I wouldn't want to make too much of it - there are Baxian elements as well. Hanson clearly liked false endings, which here is a formal weakness. The structure is quite diffuse and one feels the piano writing is almost too big to fit into the democratic duo ensemble, especially the ceaseless roulades of the finale with its probably accidental Hindemith-like moments. It is an exacting, exciting work, sprawling and rather undisciplined but it has real personality and a 'stance'. The violin's accompanying figures and decorations in the finale are almost ancillary to the piano's garrulous strength; I'd even go so far as to say that at times it becomes that rather rare post-Mozartian and Beethovenian beast, a sonata for piano and violin.
The Three Fancies of 1946 lives up to its name. The first is busy and loquacious, rather as one imagines Hanson to have been, but the central Fancy is different. Here the fiddle's rarefied line is contrasted against the piano's increasingly changeable garrulity. Hanson wrote Seascape in 1953. Again the piano writing is sinewy, purposeful, and here Hindemith-inflected. The intervals are fascinating and it's a most impressive work - brief, urgent, and sweeping. Idyll hearkens back to Debussy and Delius. An Etching was the last of the works in this recital to be written, in 1969, and is short and strikingly atonal but also embraces the kind of Australasian bird calls that have so permeated the musical language of some composers from the country. The Legende is serious and reflective without becoming at all mordant, whilst the last piece - Portrait of Australia Op.46 - is a transcription by the composer of the theme from the film of the same name.
Susan Collins and David Miller respond to Hanson's very personal chromatic writing, with great perception. Both musicians bear tremendous technical and musical responsibilities in these works and they do so with acute assurance. The recording is first class. The yellowing newspaper style booklet drove me to distraction and there aren't enough biographical details for the newcomer, but don't be sidetracked by such ephemeral matters. This is the music of an Australian iconoclast. Sometimes you'll like it, sometimes you'll recoil, but it's never dull.
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