ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
HOWARD HANSON - Symphonies 6 and 7

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HOWARD HANSON - Symphonies 6 and 7 - Lumen in Christo - Gerard Schwarz (Conductor) - Seattle Symphony and Chorale - 636943970423 - Released: January 2012 - Naxos 8.559704

Originally released around 20 years ago on the Delos label, it is nice to see these great recordings make their re-appearance in the American Classics series on the budget label Naxos. So if you didn't pick this up the first time around, now there's no excuse to miss out on some excellent 20th century symphonic works. All of the earlier Hanson symphonies have made the transfer over to Naxos, so this would be the final volume in the series.

Howard Hanson (1896-1981) wrote musical works that are so richly romantic in style and densely orchestrated that one would think he lived a century too late. But his music also displays an urban urgency typical of the times he lived in. Forward looking ideas supported by a strong old-fashioned backbone combine to make his symphonies some of the most popular on the American landscape. His characterful Symphony No. 6 for example, commissioned in 1967 by the New York Philharmonic and dedicated to Leonard Bernstein, opens with a powerful, open-ended, la Copland motif just ripe with potential that Hanson cleverly manipulates and weaves in and out of the work's fabric throughout its six movements. He does the same thing with the beautiful slow movement, again built upon an open-ended melody that never quite resolves itself, but instead leaves you wanting more. Only at the very end of the final movement, after a few hustle and bustle episodes, does he close the book on the opening motif by using it to bring the whole symphony to an impressive and resolute coda.

The Symphony No. 7 'A Sea Symphony', written when the composer was 81 years old, is a more ponderous, stoic and grandiloquent statement based on text by Walt Whitman, scored and paced to gradually lead to an uplifting finish. If you can imagine the few closing bars of the Shostakovich 7th sung by a large choir, you'll have a clear image of this symphony's final pages. Sandwiched in between the two symphonies is the choral work Lumen in Christo from 1974, an airier and more finely honed piece of music based upon the subject of light in its various significations.

These previously available Delos recordings remain as impressive today as they did when first released in the early 90s, with a deep soundstage and wide dynamic range, and make for a memorable milestone in this ongoing Naxos series of American masterworks.

Jean-Yves Duperron - January 2012