Robert Hanson taught at Dartington College between 1974 and 1990 and in this disc tribute is paid to two colleagues from that time and place.
The Violin Sonata is inspired by Jack Dobbs on his retirement from the college and was composed in 1987. Something is made in the notes of how the sonata reflects many of the dedicatee’s own musical interests – hymnody, Jazz, Purcell, Indian music and others besides. But you won’t find these musics employed in a quilt-like way. In fact they emerge naturally from the music’s communicative vocabulary. The opening’s rather short-breathed semantics, complete with repeated patterns, give way to a more reflective B section before the energy levels return. It’s in the central movement that most of the ‘other’ music appears. The piano leads, quite austerely, and there are – to me – hints of Ravelian Blues in the small section that follows and coiling and twisting Middle Eastern hues, later swept away via some pounding piano. Maybe the hints of Boogie are the jazzy elements alluded to but these are increasingly tortuous and acerbic. Hanson is not always a very easy-going composer. The most unfettered writing comes in the lyrical finale though here again there are abrasive figures around which the violin circles seemingly unable to resolve the music, before fining down tone and ascending to reach a satisfying musical close.
The accompanying song cycle is much the bigger work at 39 minutes in length. It sets five poems (Christina Rossetti, John Fletcher, William Strode, Hopkins and Campion) for soprano and piano. It was composed in memoriam in 1994 - Roy Truby was another colleague of Hanson’s at Dartington. It is a work of loss, and of memorialisation. That said it’s doubtless not intended to be an easy sing, and it isn’t. Sarah Leonard is pushed ungratefully high in places and some startling outbursts ensure that one is always on one’s mettle. The long centrepiece is Strode’s In Commendation of Music which is movingly sustained. Hanson vests Hopkins’s Heaven-Haven with some intriguing piano sounds. That said, taken as a whole, Hanson doesn’t go in for easy consolation. The music is long, the consolation hard-won.
The recording was made back in 2007 at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London, and is slightly chilly. Both teams of musicians, Sarah Leonard and Jonathan Powell and Jane Gordon and Jan Rautio are devoted performers.