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Steve Schwartz, August 2012

An elegy differs from personal grief in that it is a formal public statement. There’s plenty of formality here. The Elegy seems to grow organically from its opening idea…Four minutes in, we get a radiant passage reminiscent of the Second Symphony, the “Romantic.” Indeed, throughout the elegy, we get echoes of the Third and Fourth as well, as if Hanson recalls his personal debt to the conductor and the times they shared. The ending blows me away with a momentary quote from the Second in the brass. The piece sings as only Hanson can—powerful, concentrated, and above all genuine, one of Hanson’s best.

Dies Natalis consists of an introduction in which fragments of the chorale gradually coalesce into a full statement, seven variations, and a finale. The variations are continuous and are less important as variations per se than as rhetorical and architectural points in a symphonic movement, again one of Hanson’s best. The chorale tune pulls the best from Hanson’s melodic imagination. It covers a variety of moods, from peace to fury, and ends on a sustained triumphal note. The brass writing throughout is gorgeous, like the sun shining on the Rheingold.

The composer himself recorded every piece on the program (except Dies Natalis) for the Mercury label with the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra—each album a classic. The Seattle simply plays better than the ERO, and the recording betters the Mercury sound, state-of-the-art at the time. Most important, Schwarz commits to Hanson, as if convinced of his worth. It’s a pleasure to welcome these performances back to the catalogue. © 2012 Read complete review

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, May 2012

This really is heartfelt music, persuasively played. Even the traditionally apocalyptic Dies irae has an air of restraint, building to a strong but entirely proportionate climax. Balance and good taste are the touchstones here, and Schwarz never loses sight of that, the rapt Lux aeterna—and its efflorescing peaks—most movingly done. The final bars may be understated but gain added poignancy from being so. A gentle and benevolent work, it’s easy to see why it was the composer’s favourite. And even though it has more sinew, the Passion-inspired Fifth is blessed with the same virtues of simplicity and seamlessness; also, there’s more than a hint of Vaughan Williams in those flowing tunes, the whole naturally paced and incisively played. Short but surprisingly substantial, the Fifth is joy from start to finish.

Speaking of favourites, Hanson’s tribute to Serge Koussevitzky—who commissioned and premiered so much important music, including the composer’s own—is the piece I admire most here. Those mourning strings and glowing harmonies are deeply affecting, a blend of piercing desolation and indomitable strength. Indeed, it’s a score whose emotional reach far exceeds its deceptively simple means. A treasurable work, and one I can’t imagine more sympathetically played than it is here.

Not only are these fine performance they’re also superbly recorded—well balanced and tonally refined—making them a mandatory purchase for anyone with even a passing interest in American music.

Works of strength and subtlety, supremely well played. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Laurence Vittes
Gramophone, May 2012

Howard Hanson’s Fourth Symphony is exactly what a serious classical music composition would have been like in a hypothetical Hollywood movie of the 1940s and 50s.

The…other [Dies natalis and Elegy in Memory of Sergey Koussevitzky] works are of greater musical interest. The Elegy for Hanson’s friend and colleague Sergey Koussevitzky remains an exquisitely touching lyric. Throughout the disc, the Seattle Symphony perform as the world-class recording ensemble they became under Schwarz and for Delos.

Two decades after Delos first released these recordings, they still shine bright, powerful in the low bass and brass, and sweet in the massed strings. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, March 2012

I find absolutely no audio/recorded faults in this recording, period! A fine addition to any serious classical music lover’s collection of fine music and written by one of America’s great composers. I am not of one mind about recommending it to classical newcomers. © 2012 Positive Feedback Online Read complete review

James Norris
Audiophilia, February 2012

HANSON, H.: Symphonies (Complete), Vol. 4 - Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 / Elegy / Dies natalis I (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.559703
HANSON, H.: Symphonies (Complete), Vol. 5 - Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7 / Lumen in Christo (Seattle Symphony and Chorale, Schwarz) 8.559704

These recordings were previously released on the Delos label and it’s good that Naxos have re-released them for they are amongst the finest symphonies in the American tradition standing comparison in my opinion with Charles Ives and Virgil Thompson.

I can honestly say that the journey through Hanson’s symphonies has been for me well worth the time and these performances by the Seattle Symphony under Schwarz are very fine and detailed. © 2012 Audiophilia Read complete review

James Manheim, February 2012

These Howard Hanson recordings by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra…[is] wonderfully orchestrated and has a certain honest quality that has made it wear well even if there’s a shortage of really memorable melody…musically effective combination, especially given the numerous ways Hanson can deploy the orchestra to set up the chorales… © 2012 Read complete review

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, January 2012

highly recommended…the recordings sound fine. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review, January 2012

Schwarz has taken the measure of all this music and conducts it with understanding and considerable sensitivity. © 2012 Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2012

Last month I reviewed the Second and Third Symphonies of Howard Hanson in this benchmark cycle from Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony. He composed seven symphonies, which were to be the backbone of his substantial catalogue of works, and though born in America in 1896, he came of Scandinavian parentage, that background, linked with time spent in Italy studying with Otterino Respighi, blurring his American status. Never to wholly embrace the Americanism of his musical colleagues, nor having a relationship with atonality, he became largely ignored by the modernist music establishment in Europe. The present release offers four works reflecting a religious upbringing that at one time brought him the possibility of becoming a Lutheran minister. The Fourth is subtitled ‘Requiem’ and written in memory of his father, its four movements—defined as Kyrie, Requiescat, Dies Irae and Lux aeterna—having the Dies Irae as a short and bitter scherzo, Anger boils over in the finale a movement, only to end in resigned peace. It is an emotionally powerful score, such feelings carrying over into the Fifth, though eleven years had passed since the Fourth of 1943. That has the title ‘Sinfonia sacra’, its three sections, within a one-movement structure, possibly reflecting the three parts of the Holy Trinity, while continuing where Sibelius’s last symphony left off. We go even further into death with the 1956 Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitzky—the conductor who had given so many Hanson premieres—and finally the Dies Natalis from 1967, a score containing seven variations and finale on a Lutheran Christmas Carol. Throughout the performances Schwarz digs deeper into the Hanson idiom than any other conductor I have heard, and his Seattle orchestra responds magnificently. The recordings made between 1988 and 1994 once appeared on the Delos label…the sound quality is responsive to the music’s impact.

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, December 2011

The middle period Hanson…strikes me as being a sort of rich Nordic dessert. It is lush, sated, majestic, filled with glorious peaks and pithy quietude in alternation. The Requiem is understandably somber and elegaic; the “Sinfonia Sacre” has a slightly broader range of expression. Both occupy a kind of middle ground between some of the eclecticism of the earlier works and the breakthrough of new elements and the evolving sonic palette of the last symphonies. © 2011 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review

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