HOWARD HANSON: Symphony No. 4, “Requiem”; Symphony No. 5, “Sinfonia sacra”; Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitzky; Dies Natalis – Seattle Sym./ Gerard Schwarz – Naxos

by | Nov 7, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

HOWARD HANSON: Symphony No. 4, “Requiem”, Op. 34; Symphony No. 5, “Sinfonia sacra”, Op. 43; Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitzky; Dies Natalis – Seattle Symphony/ Gerard Schwarz – Naxos 8.559703, 69:44 ****:
These are some fine retreads from the Delos catalog which appeared back in 1988, ‘90, ‘92, and ’94. Schwarz, at that time, embarked on a series of recordings that included Howard Hanson, David Diamond, and William Schuman—others would come in also—that attempted to give excellent performances of American composers in order to bring their contributions to the fore. The series was praised highly at the time, and with good reason; the Seattle Symphony was at its height then under Schwarz, and he and the orchestra turned in outstanding readings of these exceptional, yet little known works.
This program has a rather somber note to it, though the music itself it not really that. All the pieces are of a “memorial” nature, reflecting the composer’s Scandinavian background and replete with modal melodies and sparser, less romantic leanings than some of his other works. Symphony 4 was written as a memorial to his father, and is a very intensely felt and even subtle work that won the very first Pulitzer Prize in music, and Hanson considered it his best work. Symphony 5 is a purely religious work based on the resurrection story from the Gospel of St. John. At only 15 minutes in length, the work is pregnant with musical material of a passionately pious kind. The Elegy is a simple work written five years after Koussevitzky’s death, a tribute to a man who premiered a number of the composer’s works and was a fervent champion. Dies Natalis was a commission from the Nebraska Centennial Commission dedicated to Hanson’s native state on the occasion of its 100th birthday. It is essentially Swedish Lutheran-colored chorales presented in a most engaging way to reflect the Christmas story, based on an initial chorale and a series of seven variations and a finale.
As mentioned the recordings at the time were given due accolades, and there is nothing that has happened since then to change that opinion.
—Steven Ritter

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