HOWARD HANSON: An American Romantic – Ch. works perf. by var. artists – HDTT Blu-ray

A fine cross-section of some of the little-known works of one of the great American Romantic composers.

HOWARD HANSON: An American Romantic = Concerto for organ, harp & strings; Nymphs and Satyr Ballet Suite; Concerto da Camera for piano and string quartet; Two Yuletide Pieces for Piano; Prayer for the Middle Ages; Psalms 8, 121, 150; String Quartet – David Craighead, organ/ Eileen Malone, harp/Meliora Quartet /Rochester Ch. Orch./ David Fetler/ Brian Preston, p./ Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale/Richard Shewan/ Theodore Sipes, bar./ Barbara Harbach, organ/ Lyric Art Quartet Houston – HDTT 192-14 DTS-HD MA audio-only stereo-only Blu-ray ****:

These are recordings originally made by John Proffitt, and have been remastered from the original analog tapes by HDTT. An earlier DVD-Audio version of the same program is also available, except that it does not include the final String Quartet movement, and has a different cover. The liner notes are printed even smaller on the Blu-ray than they were with the DVD-Audio, making them nearly unreadable. I have both discs and they sound about the same. The resolution on both is 192/24. The original master tapes used DBX encoding at 15 ips.

Hanson was part of the distinguished composers all born in the last decade of the 19th century: Piston, Sessions, Randall Thompson, Harris, Virgil Thomson and Copland. Although he wrote in the style of Sibelius, Grieg and Nielsen, his music was a cultural force to be taken seriously, and different from European music. In 1924 he was chosen by George Eastman of Kodak to head the University of Rochester’s new Eastman School of Music, and during his long tenure there, Hanson made it a leading force in the cultivation and propagation of American music. In the ‘60s his music was rejected as hopelessly old-fashioned, but it has recently come back into favor with an acceptance of tonality. He retired from the Eastman School in 1964 and continued to compose.

He wrote seven symphonies, and his opera Merry Mount had a successful run at the Met. The Concerto for Organ, Harp and Strings and the Concerto da Camera are two enjoyable works for chamber orchestra. The first is a revision and arrangement of an earlier Organ Concerto of 1926. It is in a one-movement fantasia-like form divided into several sections – a favorite of the composer. The Concerto da Camera dates from 1917 and opens with a majestic choral statement by the strings. Its development section has a complex fugal passage for both piano and strings. In a much later score, the Fantasy Variations on a Theme of Youth (which missed being credited on a Mercury Living Presence LP) recycles the main theme from the Concerto da Camera. The Nymphs and Satyr Ballet Suite, in three short movements, plus the motet Prayer of the Middle Ages both come from the last 3 1/2 years of Hanson’s life.

—John Sunier

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