Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 21, Nordic (1922) [29:11]
The Lament for Beowulf (1925) [19:11]
Seattle Symphony and Chorale/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Seattle Opera House, 10 Sept 1988, 16, 18 Feb 1990
NAXOS 8.559700 [48:34]

 

Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
Symphony No. 2 Romantic (1930) [28:19]
Lux Aeterna (1923) [16:51]
Mosaics (1958) [11:56]
Susan Gulkis Assadi (viola) (Lux)
Seattle Symphony and Chorale/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Seattle Opera House, 26 May 1988, 6-7 June 1994, 18-19 May 1992.
NAXOS 8.559701 [57:06]


Naxos have stood shoulder to shoulder with Hansonís music. They have recorded his piano music, a miscellany of his non-symphonic orchestral music two sets of the opera Merry Mount (Serafin; Schwarz) and even started an earlier Nashville cycle of the symphonies with one disc. The latter fell by the wayside when conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn died. Now Naxos picks up the guttering torch through licensing recordings issued originally by Delos. They have done the same thing with Diamond, Schumann and Piston. It is clear that these discs are not going to be crammed to the CD limit. Even so this series will breathe new life into the cycle and at bargain price. Nor is this an also-ran. Schwarz finds the vital spark to ignite these works to make them glow and flame. The Symphony No. 1 is effulgently passionate and lives up to its name though without quite as many Sibelian touches as its reputation would suggest. Still, this is out-and-out romantic music and instantly enjoyable. Hansonís own Eastman/Mercury recordings are vied with though their super-virile close-up grainy analogue impact compares ever so slightly unfavourably as against these refined yet full-blooded fresh recordings. That said they are now verging on a quarter century old. The second movement of No. 1 is the epitome of tenderness in Schwarzís hands as is the second in the Romantic complete with its pre-echoes of the Born Free theme. The Second Symphony under Schwarz also has the prescribed electricity and lusty euphoria though he still falls just short of the ecstatic abandon conveyed by Charles Gerhardt in his 1967 Chesky recording with the National Philharmonic. The high fast trilling strings of the finale and the rampant horns are gloriously confident. The Second was recycled into the Seventh Symphony in much the same way that Elgar re-ran material from earlier works in his The Music Makers. Schwarz delivers an estimably atmospheric, stern and driven Lament for Beowulf where the voice he might have been attending was that of Holst Ė listen to the parallels with The Hymn of Jesus (1917). The words are legibly reproduced in the admirable booklet. Lux Aeterna, a tone poem for viola and orchestra dates form the year after the Nordic. Its plangently sounded and undulating smooth contours and peppery dialogue with the viola and solo woodwind show the influence of his teacher Respighi. The grand orchestral scores of Respighi afflatus is very much in evidence and a real pleasure it is too. The Hanson of the later 1920s is also more than hinted at. Mosaics is a much later score written for Szell and Cleveland. Itís attractive and varied but lacks the intensity of the works of the 1920s and 1930s.

We are still much in need of premiere recordings of the symphonic poems Before the Dawn (1920) and Exaltation (with piano) (1920); North and West with chorus (1923); Heroic Elegy for wordless chorus and orchestra (1927); Streams in the Desert for chorus, orchestra (1969) and New Land, New Covenant, oratorio (1976). When Naxos have reissued the complete Delos-originated cycle I hope they will look for opportunities to present these works to us. Perhaps Schwarz would be interested in doing the honours or maybe John McLaughlin Williams.

Meantime if you are curious about Hanson and or are seeking a really impressive modern cycle of the Hanson symphonies look no further.

Rob Barnett

The re-launch of a really impressive modern Hanson symphonic cycle.