Fanfare for the Signal Corps
Merry Mount Suite
Bold Island Suite
Symphony No.2, Op.30 (Romantic)
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
Recorded on 8 September 2004 in the Music Hall, Cincinatti, Ohio
CD No: TELARC SACD-60649 [CD/SACD Hybrid] Duration: 66 minutes Reviewed: October 2005
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
A disc of thrilling and beautiful music, which has been recorded vividly, with natural perspective, and richness retained in the fullest-scored and loudest passages.
It was the Cincinnati Symphony that commissioned Howard Hansons Fanfare; this was in time of war, the 1942-43 season, when 18 composers were requested for pieces to honour the Allies. Hansons stirring Fanfare begins with various drum tattoos; and the rest of Hansons music here recorded, whether incidental or symphonic, might be said to be of cinematic-type gestures and melodic purple patches. Its all good stuff; and, thankfully, theres not a surfeit of powerful climaxes or credit-rolling grandiosity. Indeed, theres much thats deft and light, syncopated and enlivening; even better, this is music from the heart, superbly orchestrated, with many moving phrases that enrapture the senses.
Merry Mount is the opera Hanson completed for the Metropolitan Opera House in 1933. The title is something of a misnomer since the story concerns 17th-century New England conflict (Puritans against Cavaliers) with an oratorical pastor among the characters. After a short, imposing Overture, Hansons Suite concentrates on children merrymaking, the operas love interest, and concludes with some Maypole Dances (which includes gentle hand-clapping); a one-sided view of the opera, seemingly, but a very attractive one.
There follows the first recording, surprisingly, of Bold Island Suite, commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra in 1961, and presumably played by this august body. No mention is made in the booklet-note of a premiere, let alone clarifying if George Szell conducted it (although it was more likely Louis Lane, Szells assistant, one imagines). Its a terrific piece lasting about 24 minutes. Bold Island, near Maine, was Hansons summer retreat, and the composer (1896-1981) graphically notates the power of the sea, the cries of the birds, and the fertile experience of being there.
Its a sonorous and animated piece; expansive, too, as seems to befit this craggy and pine-strewn location (one that Erich Kunzel can view from his own home). The mid-point Summer Seascape is a rapturous evocation of sunlight on water, which seems to wind-down to nocturnal placidity, a swirling harp to the fore. The final section, mixing communion and calls-to-attention (and reminding of William Schumans New England Triptych), mixes grandeur with one of those gloriously broad and eloquent melodies that is pure Americana (with a hint of Vaughan Williams!). Bold Island Suite is an effective and distinctive work, alone worth the price of acquiring this release.
But, of course, theres also Hansons Romantic Symphony, the works popularity having been enhanced by its use in the film Alien. First and foremost, this is a symphony, with all that is implied by such a designation, one written as far back as 1930 (for the Boston Symphony). No doubting, though, the works image-creating properties, its bold colours, its strong emotions, and Hansons abilities to write sweeping tunes. For all its panorama, though, Hansons Second Symphony is also a subtle and warm piece, quite nostalgic, and bursting with humanity, and it finds sensitive partners in Erich Kunzel and the skilled folk of the Cincinatti Pops Orchestra.