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Geoffrey HANSON (b. 1939)
Five Nocturnes for tenor and chamber orchestra (2009) [16:24]
Concerto for clarinet and strings (1988) [18:15]
Orpheus, for chorus and piano (1984) [6:34]
Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100) for chorus and organ (1983) [3:20]
Odyssey: Concerto for cello and strings (2012) [18:58]
Now Welcom Somer, for unaccompanied chorus (1978) [6:55]
Pablo Strong (tenor): Sam Howie (clarinet): Sebastian Comberti (cello): Sandra Smith (piano): Helena Thomson (soprano): Jonathan Dods (organ)
London Ripieno Society/Geoffrey Hanson
London Mozart Players/Geoffrey Simon
rec. October 2016, All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London
Texts included
CALA CACD77026 [74:00]

Composer, conductor and organist Geoffrey Hanson has enjoyed long associations with the London Mozart Players and the London Ripieno Society so it’s only just that both should play such a large part in the success of this disc devoted to Hanson’s music composed over a near 35-year span. The portfolio of works on this disc show him writing for a variety of forces.

The disc begins, and closes, with music for voice. The Five Nocturnes, for tenor and chamber orchestral forces, is a supple, sensitive example of word setting. The lilting sway of The Evening Primrose, with its idiom pitched somewhere between Finzi and Britten, is immediately appealing and the chug-rhythm of the urgent Airman RFC with a strong piano ostinato offers an immediate contrast. D.H. Lawrence’s poem Piano evokes, very deliberately, hymnal warmth but Hanson responds directly to the text drawing on brass and flute in particular to characterise Lawrence’s lines. The witty commentary of the seventeenth-century An Appeal to Cats in the Business of Love is followed by the Egdon Heath-like cool luminosity of the thematically powerful Margaritae Sorori, I.M. by W.E. Henley.

Now Welcom Somer, for unaccompanied chorus, takes compact settings by Chaucer, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, W.E Henley (presumably a Hanson favourite) and Housman. Despite the brevity of the set it is strongly evocative, and it ends in a moving, but unsettling setting of On the Idle Hill of Summer in which the bugle calls serve to reinforce the theme of “Soldiers marching, all to die” – no gloss on death, and no sign of jaunty strut.

The Concerto for Clarinet and Strings was written in 1988, cast in a conventional three-movements-in-one. The solo voice opens with a call to arms, its staccato instructions pitched against a quite busy orchestral tapestry. The clarinet journeys from furtive and uncertain through more confident soliloquizing to boisterous self-confidence, surfing on a cushion of luscious string tone in the slow central panel. The long solo lines extend eloquently before the appealing and rhythmically vivacious final section. If you’re looking for a subtitle for this work, call it ‘From Trepidation to Triumph’.
The other concerto is Odyssey, for Cello and Strings. Again, it’s a one-movement work though the first two sections are slow here, a Largo followed by an Andante and then the freewheeling Allegro vivace. This is an expressively rich, generous work and its string suspensions remind one of the Holst/Vaughan Williams axis – not least in its movement freely between melancholy and lyrical richness, and its moments of modality. Hanson ensures the cello doesn’t get bogged down in the accompanying strings – the orchestration remains light, the solo writing athletic. Hanson has the confidence to allow his music to slow, to regroup and to end quietly, even somewhat ambiguously. No false heroics here.

Orpheus is written for Chorus and Piano and shows how adeptly he writes for these forces - the poem is by Osbert Sitwell – whilst the brief Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100) was composed for a wedding and is appropriately affirmatory and joyful.

Texts are present throughout and there are first-class soloists – Pablo Strong is highly effective in the songs, Sebastian Comberti unruffled and communicative in the cello concerto, and Sam Howie the eloquent clarinetist, are joined by soprano Helena Thomson in two of the Now Welcom settings. Conducting duties are shared between the composer and Geoffrey Simon. This is an excellent if belated showcase for Hanson’s compositional talents.

Jonathan Woolf
Previous review: Rob Barnett



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