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Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, March 2012

Both the playing and recording are beyond reproach, the climactic moments growing majestically in this warm, sympathetic acoustic….Schwarz’s expansive reading allowing the music to breathe most naturally. The level of invention is never in doubt, and there’s not a redundant bar in sight. And what a radiant close; goodness, what open-hearted music this is, and how affectionately played.

Thankfully, Schwarz doesn’t hug the score too tight, the Allegro con fuoco clean of limb and clear of eye. That admirable clarity extends to the recording, the contrasting woodwind trills and pulsing timps—not to mention those muted bass-drum thwacks—very well rendered. A deeply felt performance of a work that surely deserves more than the handful of recordings it’s received thus far. Concert planners would do well to include it in their programmes too.

Equally mystifying is the neglect of Hanson’s early choral work, based on the eighth-century epic, Beowulf. From its dark introductory landscape through to its simple melodies and quiet singing this is a piece of remarkable restraint and power. Hanson uses his forces sparingly, and to maximum effect, the Seattle Chorale crisp and refined throughout. As for Schwarz, he catches the ebb and flow of this piece to perfection, so that even in the subdued moment there’s no hint of impending stasis. But, more than anything, it’s the inexhaustible flow and freshness of musical ideas that keeps one gripped to the very end.

To paraphrase Fitzgerald, this disc has increased my store of enchanted objects by one. Indeed, this could be my first Record of the Year 2012, such are the rewards offered here. And then there’s the exemplary sound; really, what more could one ask for? © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

MusicWeb International, January 2012

Well performed by all involved…. Sound quality for both works is pretty good… © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Ken Smith
Gramophone, January 2012

Schwarz’s readings are ultimately more mercurial, by turns breezily lyrical and sombrely brooding, evoking a certain American optimism beneath the music’s Romantic veneer. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Lawrence Hansen
American Record Guide, January 2012

Wow! This is a welcome release.

The recorded sound…is still spectacular—solid, firm, and, like the music, expansive, but not diffuse and with plenty of ambiance from the Seattle Opera House. Schwarz keeps a firm hand on the proceedings, yet lets the music unfold at a natural pace, pushing ahead when it needs to move along, yet stopping to savor expressive, lyrical moments.

The Seattle Symphony Chorale sings with fervor and diction…the vocal contributions are almost perfectly attuned to the music—and so is the orchestral contribution. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, December 2011

Schwarz elicits some mighty resonance from his Seattle players…fusing Hanson’s natural lyricism with its occasional, dark turbulence.

Recollections of  Beowulf’s prowess find the music in full sympathy, heraldic, heroic, emblazoned. The Seattle Chorale sopranos, particularly, convey the (modal) sense of loss with a special mystical fervor. Intimate, elegiac, and portentous at once, the score as recorded by Schwarz and his Seattle forces makes a lasting and potent impression. © 2011 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

James Manheim, November 2011

The Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 22 (“Nordic”), was the work that made Hanson’s reputation when he premiered it in 1922. It shares a key and a good number of ideas with Sibelius’ first symphony, with a craggy, brooding opening movement and a broad finale enclosing a melodious slow movement that feels like nothing more than an interlude. The first movement has a complexity of structure that takes it beyond mere imitation of Sibelius, and Schwarz keeps impressive control of the trajectory at all times. Hanson’s themes in the finale are not quite as stirring as those of their model, and the choral Lament of Beowulf that closes at the album is pretty ponderous, but the Symphony No. 1 is a bona fide neglected American masterwork, a good find for Naxos’ American Classics series.

Jeff Dunn
San Francisco Classical Voice, October 2011

Naxos’ re-release of Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony’s Hanson symphonies under the American Classics series is a welcome event.

the music is satisfying and enjoyable in a late-19th-century manner…

The highlight of the music is the very interesting, if almost kitchen-sinky, third-movement finale. It begins as an expected scherzo, but suddenly morphs into a dramatic funeral march (listen to the excerpt) before returning to the fast material and a parade of the major themes of the previous two movements.

The performance quality of Schwarz and his band are excellent, and the sonics are terrific…, October 2011

Howard Hanson’s music is quite approachable to anyone who enjoys Sibelius, a lifelong influence for Hanson (1896–1981). “Nordic,”… is a…serene and stately work and less distinctly Germanic than that of Sibelius…The Lament for Beowulf (1925)…is a dark and poetic piece, and it is well sung and well played by the Seattle Symphony and Chorale under Gerard Schwarz. The sound stands up well, and the inclusion of Beowulf texts in the booklet is welcome…

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, October 2011

…Hanson sets the music to orchestra and chorus…Hanson’s own, is aptly elegiac, solemn, harsh, grave, and grim, while still being epic in scope.

The sound is smooth and wide—wide in stereo spread, dynamic range, and frequency response. Midrange clarity is fine…A good sense of orchestral depth and a touch of ambient bloom complete a reasonably realistic acoustic picture.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2011

Though the record industry has an occasional urge to jog our thoughts towards Howard Hanson, he remains the most undervalued American-born composer. Maybe the problem comes with his Scandinavian parentage, and though he was to be largely educated in the States, his American pedigree was further blurred when he won the Rome Prize and spent time there studying with Otterino Respighi. He made his American status further confused by giving his First Symphony the subtitle ‘Nordic’. Completed in 1922, it has always struck me as a Hollywood version of Sibelius, the long, powerful and lyric passages that occupy the opening two movements balanced by an energetic and outgoing finale. Hanson was then twenty-six. and maybe the rather glitzy orchestration came from his studies with Respighi, for stylistically it was rather a ‘one off’ in his career. Three years later he completed the tone poem, The Lament of Beowulf, for orchestra and chorus. The story is one of the earliest written in the English language and relates to the great warrior and the grief following his death. Begun while visiting Scotland, it may have been the rugged countryside that impacted on the score. The Symphony is now available for the second time on Naxos, probably coming from the fact that it is reissuing the Delos catalogue, the origin of this recording. Rather more spacious in the version from the Nashville Symphony and Kenneth Schermerhorn, and in a more open sound quality, it is in Gerhard Schwarz’s closing moments, with the equally fine Seattle Symphony, that we find a greater sense of violence than in Schermerhorn’s hands. Still, you will want both discs to gain the couplings, the performance of The Lament is of outstanding quality and in better sound than the symphony.

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, September 2011

Naxos already had a recording of the Nordic Symphony in their catalogue, conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn (8.559072, with Merry Mount)—see review by John Phillips, which includes a comparison with the Schwarz version, then on Delos. I haven’t heard that other version but I doubt that it excels Schwarz, except in terms of more generous playing time. JP thought the comparison swings and roundabouts. Now that Hanson’s own Mercury recordings seem to be no longer readily available…this is the version to have. The mp3 transfer does justice to the recording.

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