sounds of america
Symphonies – No 4, ‘Requiem’, Op 34 a ; No 5, ‘Sinfonia sacra’, Op 43 b . Elegy in Memory of Sergey Koussevitzky c . Dies natalis d
Seattle Symphony / Gerard Schwarz Naxos American Classics S 8 559703 (70’ • DDD) From Delos c DE3073 (3/90), a DE3105 (7/92), b DE3130 (3/93), d DE3160 (5/95)
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P h o t o g r a P h y
More Hanson from Seattle reissued by Naxos Howard Hanson’s Fourth Symphony is exactly what a serious classical music composition would have been like in a hypothetical Hollywood movie of the 1940s and 50s. It is long and tortured, but not too long (26 minutes) and not too tortured. Despite some very fine moments and a mastery of the romantic orchestra that harkened back half a century, it is unconvincing until you place it in its time: when it was written, in 1943, although it was nominally Hanson’s response to the death of his father, it must have spoken to a nation in mourning over the war. The Pulitzer Prize it won was just a natural consequence. The single-movement Fifth Symphony is marginally more compelling: 15 compact, dense minutes of epigrams and gestures lit by harmonic reflecting pools, inspired by the story of Christ’s Resurrection as described in the St John’s Gospel.
The other two works are of greater musical interest. In the introduction, Lutheran Christmas chorale, seven variations and finale that make up Dies natalis, written by the septuagenarian composer for his home state of Nebraska’s centennial, Hanson regained some of his youthful energy and inspiration. The Elegy for Hanson’s friend and colleague Sergey Koussevitzky remains an exquisitely touching lyric. Throughout the disc, the Seattle Symphony perform as the world-class recording ensemble they became under Schwarz and for Delos.
In fact, producer Adam Stern and engineer John Eargle had few peers when it came to combining the Decca and EMI ideals of clarity, size and warmth, and Hanson’s powerful music played by the Seattle Symphony and Gerard Schwarz in Seattle’s Opera House was perfect for showing off the production team’s full-range skills. Two decades after Delos first released these recordings, they still shine bright, powerful in the low bass and brass, and sweet in the massed strings. Laurence Vittes
Herbert Al Fresco (Intermezzo). The American Rose. Berceuse a . Canzonetta a . Devotion (A Love Sonnet). Estellita (Valse pathétique). Fleurette. Indian Summer. Légende a . Liebes-scene a . The Little Red Lark a . Ocean Breezes.
Lost in time: orchestral works by Hovhaness from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Pan-Americana (Morceau caractéristique). Pensée amoureuse a . Petite valse a . Romance a . Scherzo. Six Piano Pieces. Under the Elms. Unpublished a – #1; #2 a Jerry Grossman vc William Hicks pf New World F b 80721-2 (88’ • DDD)
Chamber works from a legend of the stage Hail to New World Records for initiating a series of recordings titled ‘The Foundations of the American Musical Theater’. The releases will explore the work of composers who made significant contributions to the field before the original 1943 production of Oklahoma! from Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The first entry in the series, curiously, contains nothing from musical theatre. But it does pay tribute to one of the genre’s most important composers, Victor Herbert, with a two-disc recital of his works for cello and piano. Whether Herbert’s theatrical fare is familiar or not, these delectable miniatures – most receiving their first recordings – are bound to charm.
Herbert was a virtuoso cellist before he was a composer or conductor (or champion of copyright issues), so it’s not surprising that he wrote so idiomatically for the instrument. Nor is it unexpected that all of these pieces – whether for cello and piano or solo piano – are rich in melodic grace, poetry and whimsy, as well as harmonic imagination.
The music is so appealing and varied in form and mood that it’s impossible to resist its intimate magic. Herbert’s waltzes are especially captivating but so too are his lullabies, ballads and dance numbers. No wonder his operettas were the toast of their time. The performers approach these gems as if they adore every note. Cellist Jerry Grossman wraps his voluptuous sound around Herbert’s melodies and tosses off the occasional acrobatic feat with panache. William Hicks is a terrific partner, but he really takes off when he packs nuanced and crisp artistry into the solo piano pieces. Donald Rosenberg
Hovhaness ‘Exile Symphony’ Symphony No 1, ‘Exile’, Op 17 No 2. Armenian Rhapsodies – No 1, Op 45; No 2, Op 51; No 3, Op 189. Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Strings, Op 344 a . Song of the Sea b a Kenneth Radnofsky ssax b John McDonald pf Boston Modern Orchestra Project / Gil Rose BMOP/sound F 1020 (68’ • DDD)
BMOP with Hovhaness spanning five decades With more than 400 works to his credit, Alan Hovhaness could hardly claim writer’s block as a problem. Consistency, though, was another matter, but as the pieces on this collection point out, even in those moments when Hovhaness didn’t quite find the right balance between his Armenian musical tradition, neo-romantic lyricism and quasi-transcendental mysticism, his pieces still came out sounding like no other composer.
He did have his models, however. Song of the Sea (1933), the earliest and least distinctive piece here, has a few touches of Strauss. Symphony No 1, Exile (1938), his breakthrough both stylistically and professionally, clearly lives in the shadow of Sibelius. And his three Armenian Rhapsodies (1944) have precedents in gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE MAY 2012 XI