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Howard Hanson An American Romantic [Import]

Howard Hanson Audio CD

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hanson was, indeed, an "American romantic." Sept. 1 2013
By John J. Puccio - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Composer, conductor, educator, and music theorist Howard Hanson (1896-1981) was, indeed, an "American romantic." He was among the last of the breed, a kind of twentieth-century throwback to the nineteenth century, so you'll find little of the avant-garde here, the experimental, the dissonant, the discordant, the odd, the atonal, or the eccentric. Yet as a prizewinning composer and director of the Eastman School of Music for over forty years, he continually championed new American music (Copland, Barber, Carter, Thomson, Sessions, Harris, etc.). On the present album, recorded over thirty years ago, we hear a lighter side of the composer, chamber and choral music mainly. It is not among his most-popular material nor is it his best, but some of it can be downright entertaining, and HDTT's recording quality, as always, is excellent.

The first of five selections on the program is the Concerto for Organ, Harp and String Orchestra, with David Fetler leading the Rochester Chamber Orchestra. Despite the title, however, it's not much of an "organ concerto" per se. It's more like an orchestral piece that just happens to include an organ because often the organ goes by almost unnoticed. Don't expect a full-blown Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, or the work will disappoint you. This is a more easygoing piece of music, a kind of lyric idyll for strings with minor organ and harp accompaniment.

The Concerto, at least under Fetler, the only time I've heard it, sort of ambles lazily along in a kind of Frederick Delius manner, with no real starting point or destination. Yet that may be part of the work's appeal, as it is wonderfully relaxed. Besides, when the organ does make its occasional appearances, it does so with authority.

Next up is the ballet suite Nymphs and Satyr, which Hanson wrote in 1979, one of his final works. Again it's Fetler and his Rochester Chamber Orchestra who perform it, the same forces that gave it its Rochester première shortly before this recording. So I imagine theirs to be a definitive performance of the music.

Unlike the Organ and Harp Concerto, which runs along in a single movement, the equally brief ballet is in three movements: Prelude and Fantasy, Scherzo, and Epilogue. It's a bit more animated than the Concerto, with several lively sections, and there's more sense of atmosphere throughout. It still doesn't leave one with much actually to remember, but its often playful warmth seems heartfelt.

The final items on the agenda are a bit more unusual and, in their way, more impressive. The Concerto da Camera for Piano and String Quartet has a melancholy though winsome quality to it as performed by Brian Preston, piano, and the Meliora Quartet. I quite enjoyed it, particularly Preston's commanding piano playing and the Quartet's longing accompaniment.

Two Yuletide Pieces for Piano, also performed by Brian Preston, seem more important than they probably are and left me somewhat unmoved. However, perhaps saving the best for last, we find an a cappella motet, A Prayer of the Middle Ages, and three Psalms, performed by the Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale, Robert Shewan conducting, to conclude the program. The choir sings them beautifully, and they project a sweet and affecting attitude, the latter three selections enjoying the accompaniment of organist Barbara Harbach and baritone Theodore Sipes.

Fairly big, wide, open, airy sound completes the picture.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lesser heard Hanson pieces Nov. 4 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
If you love Howard Hanson, you will love these lesser heard works. Always up to the highest Hanson standards, each piece uses a different vehicle and different approaches to its subject. Yet each is unmistakably Hanson.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Listening Experience July 24 2008
By Tonie Sivert - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
As a musician and lover of all classical music, I highly recommend this CD. I loved the instrumentals as well as the choral numbers. My favorite was the "Impromtu". I played this selection in college and I was thrilled with the interpretation on this well put together CD.
4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Collection of Second Tier Hanson Works June 15 2005
By Cory - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Perhaps I'm mostly responding to the other reviewer who heaped praise on the Organ and Harp Concerto. I bought this CD mostly because of interest in this work. The organ and the harp are two of my favorite instruments in an orchestral setting. Two of my favorite symphonies include Khachaturian's Third and Copland's First, both which feature the organ. Here the composers understand the dynamics of the organ in an orchestral setting. And it works!

Hanson's organ does not.

Yes, indeed there are some beautiful passages in the concerto, and some garbage to sift through as well. But the organ is not the right instrument for the work. It is the opposite of the right instrument for this work. A little rearranging, and this concerto could be one of Hanson's best works. The organ immitates lines that could easily be taken by some brass and woodwind sections. These sections are precisely what this concerto is missing. It lacks variety, and the organ seems like filler. Would someone PLEASE arrange this concerto with brass and woodwind sections and remove the organ? Maybe take his good ideas and combine them with good transitions also.

The other works are additional treats. The Nymphs and Satyr are certainly standard Hanson works, calling upon the same sort of passionate romanticism found in his first few symphonies.

His last four choral works have some merit, but the choir quality could stand to be tweaked a bit (as seems to be the case in many American choral works recordings, especially Randall Thompson's).

If you own a few Hanson symphonies, such as Delos' set of symphonies, and are looking for more Hanson, this is a good place to start. But don't expect the same sort of Hanson genius found in, say, the second through fourth symphones.

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