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Hanson romantic HDTT1475

Howard Hanson (1896-1981)
American Romantic
Concerto for Organ, Harp, and String Orchestra (1926 rev. 1941)
Nymphs and Satyr Ballet Suite (1979)
Concerto da Camera in C for Piano and String Quartet (1917)
Two Yuletide Pieces for Piano (1920)
A Prayer of the Middle Ages (1976)
Psalm 8, How Excellent Thy Name (1953)
Psalm 121, I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes (1967)
Psalm 150, Praise Ye the Lord (1965)
Barabra Harbach, David Craighead (organ)
Eileen Malone (harp)
Meliora Quartet, Brian Preston (piano)
Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale/Robert Shewan
Rochester Chamber Orchestra/David Fetler
rec. September 1981, Ashbury First United Methodist Church, Rochester; First Lutheran Church, Lyons, USA
No texts

This was originally recorded in September 1981, very soon after the performances given at Hanson’s memorial concert which was held at Ashbury First United Church in Rochester. It appears now under licence from Albany (TROY129) and is released with their cooperation and permission. The dates of composition of the pieces range from 1917 to 1979 allowing a 60-year span to suggest the breadth of Hanson’s imagination and his work in various mediums.

People can be in two minds about Hanson but when he spins a line as full of succulent lyricism as he does in the opening of the Concerto for Organ, it’s surely hard to resist. I happen to be a Hanson admirer and whilst there’s a much more recent Naxos recording of this work (review), I am more than happy to draw attention to this one’s revivification. Written in a single movement it’s sectional and clearly demarcated but is nevertheless a fluid work that builds through Nordic colours to reach a powerfully vivid peroration, and fortunately the harp here is well balanced and at all times audible. Soloist David Craighead copies heroically with an occasionally very demanding organ part and harpist Eileen Malone plays with fine tone and technique. David Fetler directs the Rochester Chamber Orchestra with real authority.

The ballet suite Nymphs and Satyr was written in 1979, two years before Hanson’s death. Cast in three sections, a Prelude and Fantasy, Scherzo and Epilogue, it opens in dappled luxurious light-filled warmth whilst the Scherzo is a delight and ultra-charming. For the finale Hanson calls on the Rochester’s brass to lead the way. If you don’t know this piece you should; it holds no terrors, only joyful affirmation. With the Concerto da Camera we are pitched back in time to 1917. Pianist Brian Preston joins the Meliora Quartet for this ardent reading, resonant and romantic, that lasts a quarter of an hour. I suppose accusations of sweet perfumery could be levelled by a stern critic but for most people its lyricism, fused with fugal development, conveys the essence of the youthful Hanson’s skill. The performers cope well with both the demands and the rewards of this generous work.

Preston is again on hand to perform the Two Yuletide Pieces, brief and attractive. The first is a fresh Impromptu, the second a noble march. The remainder of the programme is given over to choral works sung by the Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale under Robert Shewan. Hanson wrote A Prayer of the Middle Ages for eight-part mixed chorus and it’s a large-scaled and impressive work that lasts barely four minutes but manages to pack that time with much rich material. Psalm 8 is heard in the revised version of 1956 which Hanson prepared for Rochester forces under David Fetler. Psalm 121 I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes is set for baritone, chorus and organ. It melds a romantic aura with tight constructive power, and these produce intriguing sonorities. The final piece is Psalm 150 Praise Ye the Lord, a festive, rich, vibrant setting that draws from chorus and organ alike jubilatory responses.

The choral forces do extremely well considering that they’re college students but everyone in this disc gives of their very best in presenting Hanson’s life-affirming work.

The notes refer to Hanson’s string quartet which is not contained in the disc but there’s no damage done. John Gladney Proffitt has not only written the extensive booklet notes but produced and engineered the disc, transferred from the original master tapes. He’s done a very fine job with the analog material, and this can certainly be considered alongside such discs as the Naxos.

Jonathan Woolf

Published: October 28, 2022

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