Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra afford an inspired reading of two magnificent works by a sadly-neglected American genius who deserves a musical renaissance. Anyone who listens to the lilting melodic beauty of these two magisterial works will never again question the rightful place of American classical music within hailing distance of the European greats both within this form and in the general music repetoire. Hanson may well be the greatest American composer, a statement that would scoffed at by a number of people who worship Gershwin, Barber, Copland and even Carlisle Floyd, all of whom of course are at the top of the country's music tradition. But Hanson will one day be fully re-evaluated, and these two symphonies, as well as a few others, his haunting "Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitsky" and his opera "Merry Mount" will be at the center of this inevitable revistitation of his canon. The composer still holds the all-time record at the Metropolitan Opera House for the most curtain calls (50) at the end of this opera's premiere in the 1930's. That is astonishing when you consider works by Puccini, Wagner, Verdi, Mozart and Strauss are done there regularly.
Most of the attention has been lavished on his "Romantic" Symphony No. 2, which is indeed a ravishing work, but too little has been said about the beautiful "Nordic" Symphony No. 1, which contains a main theme in the first movement that is so lyrical and lilting and so piercingly beautiful that it singlarly defines the composer's ability to envelop his listener with lines of such unabashed emotionality, that they leave in their wake a listener reflecting on some of the most unforgettable moments they have experienced in his/her life. Hanson is saying here that a person's undaunting optimism and faith will triumph over adversity, even if it is unavoidable. It is a melodic line that defines the very essence of romanticism, and it's ironic and rather wonderful that an American composer writing his most celebrated compositions in the 30's and 40's has made this statement. Suffused with the influence of Sibelius, the Swedish-parented composer utilizes sweeping themes infused with heroic cadences, and the senic beauty of the outdoors. Of course, inevitably, the "Nordic" gives way in its later movements to a strain of melancholy, which is not only part of Hanson's duality of purpose, but a reflection of brooding Scandinavian melancholy. The "Nordic" is a masterpiece.
The "used" and "like new" prices for this are beyond insane. Obtaining this CD is the 'steal' of 'steals.' These works cry out for recognition from the New York Philharmonic and other world-class orchestras.