Howard Hanson conducts = CARPENTER: Adventures of a Perambulator; SESSIONS: The Black Maskers; IVES: Symphony No. 3 – Eastman Rochester Orchestra/Howard Hanson – HDTT HDDVD216 (96K/24-bit DVD-R), 69:45 [also in other formats from www.highdeftapetransfers.com] *****:
Howard Hanson (1896-1981) successfully negotiated a dual career as composer and conductor, which included his European tour, 1962-1962, with the Eastman Philharmonia. These HDTT transfers from Mercury Records prerecorded tapes (2-track for the Carpenter, 1956 and 4-track for Sessions and Ives, 1956-1957) capture Hanson in top form, devoting himself to the legacy of American symphonic works that same rigor and intensity that marked all of his inscriptions.
John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951) composed his Adventures in a Perambulator in 1914– a suite of six pieces based on the day in the life of an infant, the composer’s daughter, Ginny–for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. We might consider the work a distant American cousin of Faure’s Dolly, Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants, or Debussy’s Children’s Corner. Typical of American composition, Carpenter’s piece likes to quote others’ works; so in the course of “The Hurdy-Gurdy,” we hear references to Il Trovatore, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, and “Oh, Marie.” The “Dogs” section quotes “Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone.” The “Dreams” movement puts Ginny to sleep with a French lullaby, “Dodo, L’enfant Do.” Colorful and imaginative, harmonically conservative, the music shows off the Eastman players to advantage in the style of an American boulevardier. [It was even once considered by Walt Disney for the sequel to Fantasia…Ed.]
Roger Sessions (1896-1985) wrote The Black Maskers in 1923 for a senior play at Smith College, revising the suite in 1928. The inspiration comes from a drama by the Russian Leonid Andreyev, who employs allegory in the manner of Edgar Allan Poe. Duke Lorenzo suffers attack by a contingent of Black Maskers, grotesque figures from the dark side of human nature. Melodic but in a dissonant and confrontational style, the raucous sounds often represent “malicious laughter” from the Maskers or cries of despair from the Duke. The third movement, “Dirge,” offers the Duke’s song, but the trumpet signals the victory by the oppressors. Finale has the castle consumed in flames, the death of Lorenzo, but his soul triumphant in the conflagration, which has released his noble spirit. Pungent and often coarsely dramatic, this music still carries a punch that more orchestral ensembles ought to consider in their programs. [Though very hard-edged, it’s nowhere near the later Sessions style…Ed.]
The Charles Ives Symphony No. 3 (1904; rev. 1909) draws materials from other compositions, the composer constantly reworking the score until Henry Cowell conjured an edition–and Kenneth Singleton an alternative later–in 1964. Ives kept adding dissonances because he felt the music was “too soft” on listeners. The Symphony bears the subtitle “The Camp Meeting” and applies evangelical and liturgical melodies freely, often in counterpoint. Besides the Ives chromaticism, the piece moves towards his mature style, which intrudes hymns like “Silent Night” into a progression that doesn’t suit the harmonies, a clash that would force his audience to “take a dissonance like a man.” Some twenty minutes long, in three movements, the Symphony plays like a Christian’s stream-of-consciousness on a Sunday afternoon during an extended prayer-meeting. High class religious Americana. Maybe that’s the rubric that best defines this energetic colorful disc, beautifully mounted, except that HDTT provides no timings for any aspect of the production.
— Gary Lemco [reviewing the standard CD-R]
OK, my audiophile turn: Carpenter’s Adventures in a Perambulator has been my favorite Howard Hanson/Mercury Living Presence Recording since it first came out on LP in 1956. I still have the original Mercury 2-track tape from which this HDTT 96K DVD-R was made, as well as the excellent standard CD reissue done by Wilma Cozart for Philips in the early 1990s. My Technics RS-1500 open reel deck is not decked out with the extensive tweaks of The Tape Project, so even the standard CD reissue sounds generally better than the 2-track tape – less hiss and noise – though slightly less "air."
The HDTT 96/24 DVD transfer is instantly superior to both the tape on my equipment and the CD reissue. It has greater clarity, resolution, extended high end, and restores the "air" which seems to be missing on the standard CD transfer. It also decodes for a surround effect using either ProLogic II or DTS Neo 6 more effectively than does the CD. It’s too bad there were only about 16 three-channel SACD reissues from the Living Presence Series before Philips gave up on that, and none of these three works were included. One of them would have been an interesting comparison.
I was surprised to hear no audible differences between the transfers from the two-track tapes and those from the four-track. One would expect the latter to have more hiss and noise, but the ultimate-level gear used by HDTT evidently eliminates that concern. It was also good of HDTT to give us nearly 68 minutes of music conducted by Hanson, since the Mercury/Philips CD reissues were usually in the 75-80 minute area. I do have two bones to pick, however: HDTT continues its maddening habit of having no 10 to 15 second pauses between the three works on the disc; and the tracks are wrong – Black Maskers has five movements, not four, and the first movement of the Ives Symphony No. 3 is track 11, not track 10, making a total of 13 tracks, not 12.
— John Sunier