Music of Howard Hanson - Volume 1
Revisiting these stylish, outstandingly sympathetic performances has been a very real pleasure and anyone who missed out on the original individual full-price issues can purchase with confidence.
Gerard Schwarz’s red-blooded 1988 account of the Second Symphony (Romantic) remains a match for any rival, and in making that assessment I include both of the composer’s own recordings with his Eastman-Rochester forces (from 1939 – on Biddulph – and 1958 respectively). Dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fourth (Requiem) of 1943 was apparently Hanson’s personal favourite of his cycle of seven, and Schwarz and his excellent Seattle band do full justice to its dark opulence, concision and organic power. Similarly, there’s no missing the communicative ardour and clean-limbed security of Schwarz’s lucid reading of the Sixth. Commissioned in 1967 by the New York Philharmonic for their 185th anniversary season, it boasts a formidable thematic economy and intriguing formal scheme of which Hanson himself was justifiably proud. Its successor, A Sea Symphony from 1977, sets texts from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. In the unashamedly jubilant finale Hanson fleetingly quotes from his Romantic Symphony of more than four decades earlier: it is a spine-tingling moment in a score of consummate assurance and stirring aspiration. Schwarz’s traversal finds the Seattle Symphony Chorale on rousing form.
We also get exemplary renderings of the pretty 1945 Serenade for flute, harp and strings (a gift for Hanson’s wife-to-be, Margaret Elizabeth Nelson) and characteristically inventive Fantasy Variations on a Theme of Youth from 1951 (with Carol Rosenberger a deft soloist), both these featuring Schwarz directing the New York Chamber Symphony. Again, the present warm-hearted accounts of both the Elegy in memory of Serge Koussevitzky (whose electrifying 1940 Boston SO version of Hanson’s Third should not be missed – Biddulph, 3/97) and Mosaics (a highly appealing set of variations written in 1957 for Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra) need not fear comparison with the composer’s own Mercury recordings.
Engineering is wonderfully ripe. Delos’s booklet says Volume 1, so presumably we can expect a companion two-disc set devoted to the rest of Schwarz’s memorable Hanson series. A hearty recommendation.'