Hanson: American Music, Volume 4 = Works of HARRIS, GRIFFES & BARBER – Eastman-Rochester/Howard Hanson – Pristine

by | Jan 13, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Hanson: American Music, Volume 4 = HARRIS: Symphony No. 3; GRIFFES: The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan; The White Peacock, Op. 7, No. 1; Clouds, Op. 7, No. 4; Bacchanale, Op. 6, No. 3; BARBER: Symphony No. 1 in One Movement, Op. 9 – Eastman-Rochester Orchestra/ Howard Hanson – Pristine Audio PASC 315, 59:59 [avail. in various formats from www.pristine classical.com] ****:
Producer Andrew Rose continues his fine remastering of Mercury label originals with American music inscribed 1953-1955 by Howard Hanson (1896-1981).  Two works of equal length and equal musical import brace the hazily “impressionistic” materials by Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920). The massive Third Symphony of Roy Harris (1939) has become a kind of quintessential American concert work, moving from lyrical tragedy to a more dramatically tragic effect that ends on a G Minor chord. Shaped in one movement in the manner of the Sibelius Seventh Symphony, the Harris piece divides into five sections that occasionally assume canonical development. Energetic exchanges in the woodwinds, tympani solo, and plucked strings offer challenges to Hanson’s sense of orchestral balance and texture that engage our attention. In its tender moments, the Harris symphony achieves a nobility of expression that feels authentic and richly dramatic.
The music of Griffes that receives regular attention, his Roman Sketches and Fantasy Pictures, were conceived between 1910-1915. Griffes found the poetry of William Sharp (his Sospiri di Roma, “Sighs of Rome”) to his taste, and Griffes sought to fill out Sharp’s intentions more fully in Walter Pater’s sense that “all art aspires to the condition of music.” Legend has it that Griffes saw a white peacock in the Berlin zoo, and he consequently collected pictures of them. The poem by Sharp (aka Fiona McLeod) calls forth a white peacock “Deep in the heart of a sea of white violets.“ A sensuous melody “fans out” in arpeggios to imitate the male of the species’ spreading his proverbial tail.
Cumulus clouds provide the subject matter for Op. 7, No. 4, a colorful evocation in mixed tonalities that contrasts with Debussy’s “study in gray,” Nuages. The Eastman-Rochester harp and flute conspire with the strings to evoke sensuous tissue in space, as though Mallarme had cast his spell in America. The harmonies, by the way, move between Ravel and Ives. The first of the Griffes works, The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan (1912; orch. 1916) takes the Coleridge poem quite literally, moving in “mazy motions” and invoking a “woman wailing for her demon lover.” The sacred river of Imagination, Alph, having given birth to itself, cedes its power to a soft finale, perhaps dreaming of Mount Abora. The world premier of the piece occurred in Boston under Pierre Monteux. Hanson invokes its veiled eruptive beauty in virile tones. The Bacchanale from Fantasy Pictures might owe a small debt to Saint-Saens, but the musical means come closer to Respighi as cross-fertilized by Debussy and Richard Strauss. The Eastman battery enjoys a brisk workout, as does the brass. A bit of oriental color ingratiates itself into the final fanfares, the coda sudden and decisive.
Barber composed his Symphony in One Movement in 1936 and revised it c. 1947. At the time, only the Sibelius Seventh might have served as his model, a single movement that synthesizes the traditional four-movement structure that derives its contours from the three themes of the opening movement. Diminished, the first theme provides the basis of the Scherzo, Allegro molto. The second theme Barber lengthens, the oboe and harp over muted strings, to form the Andante tranquillo. The music crescendos to the Con moto finale, a condensed passacaglia on the first theme in low strings that absorbs themes from latter movements and closes in a rather cyclic recapitulation of the symphony as a whole. Hanson provides both urgency and virile might to the outer sections, but no less a refined, virtuoso delicacy to the buzzing and busy figures of the Scherzo. The winds, brass, harp, and tympani operate at high frequency, virtuosic, often in feathery textures. Hanson’s innate romanticism finds an admirable vehicle in the Barber third movement, which demands hearings more often.
—Gary Lemco

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