Hanson Conducts American Music, Vol. 3 = CARTER; RIEGGER; MACDOWELL – Eastman-Rochester Orch./Howard Hanson – Pristine

by | Aug 20, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Hanson Conducts American Music, Volume 3 = CARTER: The Minotaur—Ballet Suite; RIEGGER: New Dance; MACDOWELL: Suite No. 2, Op. 48 “Indian” – Eastman-Rochester Orchestra/ Howard Hanson – Pristine Audio PASC 302, 64:19 [avail. in diff. formats from www.pristine classical.com] ****:
The third installment of discs devoted to Howard Hanson’s readings of American music includes the 1947 ballet Elliott Carter (b. 1908) composed for Lincoln Kirsten’s Ballet Society, here (rec. 10 May 1955) a twelve-movement work in neo-Classical style that follows the Greek legend of Theseus, Ariadne, and the birth and slaying of the Minotaur on the island of Crete. Carter had been associated with a group of composers known as the Boston neo-classicists: Harold Shapero, Arthur Berger, Irving Fine, and Lukas Foss. They all followed Stravinsky’s music closely. When Carter’s previous The Minotaur–like balletic effort Pocahontas (1939)–did poorly with critics and audiences, Carter turned to a more radical style. Surprisingly, there are several lyrical moments in the score worth hearing, like Scene 2, Ariadne’s dance with Theseus, rife with cross-rhythms and some striking counterpoint. The darker passages, like Theseus’ Farewell to Ariadne and A Thread Breaks, easily suggest Stravinsky of Apollo, Barber of the Essays for Orchestra, or any of the American scores influenced by the Nadia Boulanger aesthetic. After Theseus and some Greeks emerge from the labyrinth, they soon forget any debt to Ariadne and depart from Crete without her. In the midst of Theseus’ leave taking, only the clashing harmonies indicate Ariadne’s personal doom at the ingratitude of her beloved.
Wallingford Riegger’s 1935 New Dance, along with his Dance Rhythms, remains his one claim to popularity. Asymmetrical metrics from conga and rumba combine in obsessive ostinato, in Latin colorations that prove compelling and energetically visceral. Hanson’s recording from 11 May 1953 has a crisp, elemental force that the Mercury engineers captured nicely and which Andrew Rose has improved to potent clarity. That Riegger composed for the likes of Martha Graham should surprise few who enjoy the elemental power in his dance forms, often reminiscent of the same energies we hear in the music of Silvestre Revueltas.
Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) composed his Second Suite in 1892, ostensibly borrowing from a collection by musicologist Theodore Baker of collected Indian tunes, but amended by MacDowell “in the direction of musical beauty, [but] enough of the original tune[s) have] been retained to leave no doubt as to [their] barbaric flavor.” The opening movement, Legend, builds on two themes for horns, strings, and woodwinds. The conservative harmonic elements have refined away any of the “primitive” that we associate with Bartok and Kodaly’s notion of ethnic music, but the orchestration is effective. Hanson’s forces (19 November 1953), culled from the Rochester Philharmonic and Eastman School top players, achieve an ample sound—vital and masculine. Love Song supposedly derives from MacDowell’s musings on an Iowa tribe motif. War Times proves colorful for the flutes and brass, but it lacks real martial conviction. MacDowell himself remained fond of the Dirge movement, stating that the music described an Indian mother’s lament for her dead son, but that the music transcended any particular moment of grieving. Village, the fifth movement, takes its cue from two Iroquois melodies, alternately for plucked strings and for flute-piccolo combination with winds and strings. Even at its best, the music sounds like a slightly insipid version of Dvorak’s style in his American Suite, but Hanson’s forces never relent in their spirited enthusiasm.
—Gary Lemco

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