Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
Symphony no.3 (1938) [36:00]; Merry Mount Suite (1933) [16:01]
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Seattle Opera House, Seattle, Washington (WA), 23 May 1990 (3); 16, 18 February 1990 (Merry)
Originally released on Delos International.
NAXOS 8.559702 [52:01]
When there is as much music in existence as there is it is inevitable that some composers can remain unknown to you. Other than his name, this is the case for me when it comes to Howard Hanson. His music I know of but really cannot say I can recall hearing though surely I must have.  Be that as it may I can approach it as if for the first time pretty conclusively.  What was obvious to me from the first bars was that I didn’t need to know anything about his Swedish background - both his sets of grandparents came from Sweden - to be immediately struck by the Nordic influences. These could easily have lead me to believe I was listening to a work by Sibelius that had somehow slipped past me.  That powerful, life-affirming sweep of pure nature in the raw that always asserts itself in the great Finnish composer’s works is evident here right from the start. The broad surges of sound from the orchestra’s lower registers create a cold atmosphere against which the violins spiral upwards in a distinctly Sibelian way.  Indeed, as the liner notes say, Hanson wrote “Temperamentally the Third Symphony is ... closely related to (my) First Symphony, The Nordic”; so there you have it.  None of what I write here is meant in any way as a critique of Hanson’s music which is beautifully lyrical and original. It is highly attractive to listen to with the unusual opportunity to hear Scandinavian themes filtered through the creative impulse of an American-born composer.  It has certainly spurred me on to explore the other six Hanson symphonies.
The other offering on the disc is his Merry Mount Suite taken from his opera which had its premiere in 1934.  Its setting is New England in Puritan times. The story centres around the story of a Pastor’s romantic obsession with a visiting lady. This is hardly the obvious choice for an opera it has to be said, especially when you read that it ends with murder.  However, the premiere at the Met elicited no fewer than fifty curtain calls.  The music is again lush and gorgeous with the occasional whiff of Copland.  The disc really fired up my interest again in American music which I always find fascinating and almost always better than I expect it to be. “Why shouldn’t it be?”, I hear you cry - quite right too!
Steve Arloff  
Hanson’s music is beautifully lyrical and original … highly attractive to listen to.
The Complete Schwarz Hanson symphony series
Vol. 1 - Symphony No. 1; The Lament for Beowulf Naxos 8.559700
Vol. 2 - Symphony No. 2; Lux aeterna; Mosaics Naxos 8.559701
Vol. 3 - Symphony No. 3; Merry Mount Suite Naxos 8.559702
Vol. 4 - Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5; Elegy; Dies natalis Naxos 8.559703
Vol. 5 - Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7; Lumen in Christo Naxos 8.559704