Gerard Schwarz / Seattle Symphony Orchestra

Howard Hanson: Symphony No. 3

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The Northern, Nordic sound of the orchestra is not merely limited to Scandinavia, as American composer Howard Hanson demonstrates in the two works on this album. His Symphony No. 3 is a full, lush work with a large orchestra, and the Seattle Symphony under the direction of Gerard Schwarz does an excellent job of bringing Hanson's music to life. Though the cello-based introduction is almost impossible to hear at the beginning of the first movement, the string instruments enter one by one, their lines intertwining, until dramatic chords with the brass and percussion wake the orchestra up fully. There are most certainly echoes of Sibelius here, with powerful brass and the orchestra giving their all, observing the tempo marking of agitato. Just after the orchestral climax, the music cleverly dies out, teasing the listener's expectations. Rich strings with a lot of texture characterize the second movement. Sometimes the music seems to meander, but once again, powerful brass punctuate the music and give it direction. The broad strings conjure wide-open spaces, giving the movement a sense of vastness. The third movement also tends to meander at times, but it is full of power and complex musical lines. The winds demonstrate the playful nature of this piece, truly making it a scherzo. The symphony concludes by boldly marching forward in the fourth movement, and Hanson builds in small climaxes throughout. Schwarz brings out every instrument in the orchestra: it is a full-scale production. They play cleanly, crisply, and brightly, and the good recording quality showcases this sound. The Merry Mount Suite is a programmatic extract from Hanson's opera, Merry Mount. The Tannhäuser-like beginning with brass chords and lyrical, huge, sweeping strings demonstrates that Hanson truly understands tone color and orchestration. "Children's Dance" is a perfect example of programmatic music, providing an aural picture of children frolicking gaily. As is necessary after such full, dramatic music, Hanson lightens the orchestration in the "Love Duet," which is sweeter and more lyrical. There is a theme that is shadowy and hinted at, slightly hidden, and it emerges slowly in the strings, to be surrounded by all the other instruments; symbolic, perhaps, of a secret love. The work concludes with the "Prelude to Act II and Maypole Dances," which conjures a pastoral feel in the beginning, and one can virtually see a meadow flowers and townspeople dancing around a Maypole. The orchestra plays with perfect rhythmic synchronization, a credit to the excellent conductor at the helm.

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