SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Howard Hanson: An American Romantic” = Concerto for Organ, Harp and String Orchestra; Nymphs and Satyr Ballet Suite; Concerto de Camera in C for piano and string quartet; Two Yuletide Pieces for Piano; Four Pieces for Chorus – var. performers – Albany/HDTT

A fine collection of chamber works by the leading American Romantic composer Howard Hanson.

Published on September 6, 2013

“Howard Hanson: An American Romantic” = Concerto for Organ, Harp and String Orchestra; Nymphs and Satyr Ballet Suite; Concerto de Camera in C for piano and string quartet; Two Yuletide Pieces for Piano; Four Pieces for Chorus – var. performers – Albany/HDTT

“Howard Hanson: An American Romantic” = Concerto for Organ, Harp and String Orchestra; Nymphs and Satyr Ballet Suite; Concerto de Camera in C for piano and string quartet; Two Yuletide Pieces for Piano; Four Pieces for Chorus – David Craighead, organ/ Eileen Malone, harp/ Rochester Ch. Orch./ David Fetler/ Brian Preston, piano/Meliora Quartet/Robert Wesleyan College Chorale/Robert Shewan/ Barbara Harbach, organ – HDTT stereo-only DVD-Audio Troy 129 (192K/24-bit) *****:

Howard Hanson, who lived until 1981, was a distinguished American composer, educator (who founded the Eastman School of Music) and advocate of American composers. He—along with Piston, Sessions, Thompson, Harris, Thomson and Copland—made American classical music a  distinctive musical force to be taken seriously, and different from European music. While much of his music has been recorded by Mercury Living Presence who were prescient enough to have a contract with him—both for conducting other works and presenting his own orchestral works—it is good to have this live concert which which was partially a memorial concert following his death in 1981.

It was recorded on two-track tape using DBX Type I encoding (2:1)—which could be very successful and better than Dolby A at the time if properly set up—by John Proffitt. The Organ Concerto was transferred to this hi-res digital disc from original DBX-encoded 15ips master tapes and the other tracks came from 96K/24-bit digital masters made from the original analog tapes.  HDTT uses the very highest quality mastering gear in making these reissue discs and downloads, so the sonic results are quite exceptional.

The Hanson Organ Concerto is clearly the main interest here. It illustrates the composer’s ideals of beauty, clarity and simplicity of utterance, along with his conviction that musicians and audiences would respond openly to one another on this basis. It is unusual in featuring not only the pipe organ but also the concert harp in the concerto setting. The Nymphs and Satyr ballet has three movements and is performed by the Rochester Chamber Orchestra. The work struck as a sort of more modern version  of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe ballet, with a reduced orchestral force. There must be an error on the jewel-box credits, because on the last of the three movements I hear a chorus entering which is not in the credits on the album.

The Concerto de Camera has been recorded before, but this is a fine performance which illustrates Hanson’s chamber music style, and uses a compelling theme which remains in one’s head. The choral works are worth hearing, but not my specialty.

Hanson’s position in music history is linked with the Eastman School of Music, financed by George Eastman, inventor of Kodak film. Dozens of famous American musicians were trained by Hanson and his staff, and during his tenure in Rochester, he presented works by over 700 different composers—over 1500 different compositions— surely a remarkable record.

Even if you don’t have a DVD-A player, this DVD will probably play on your standard DVD player, though it may be down-sampled from the 192K files.

—John Sunier




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