Gerard Schwarz, Hanson: Symphony No. 1, ‘Nordic’ – The Lament for Beowulf

Steve Holtje

By Steve Holtje

on 11.28.11 in Reviews

It’s a boon to lovers of American Romanticism that Naxos is reissuing Schwarz’s Hanson cycle, originally on the Delos label. Hanson’s First (1922) is unabashedly inspired by early Sibelius; it’s even in the same key as the latter’s own First. Nonetheless, it has its own style, more effusive and lushly colorful, and Hanson, of Swedish stock, was entitled to his Nordic theme. At the time, with modernism in full swing, the First was considered old-fashioned, but almost 90 years later what matters is that it’s effulgently orchestrated (written while he studied with Respighi), pleasingly melodic, and finely crafted in three cyclical movements with a smashingly dramatic conclusion. Schwarz’s version strikes a balance between Hanson’s old Mercury recording (fleet and light) and Kenneth Schermerhorn’s more monumental vision; Schwarz’s timings lie between theirs in each movement.

Effulgently orchestrated, pleasingly melodic and finely crafted

This album also offers a significant — and apt — coupling, a similarly Nordic work from 1925 (Beowulf’s people, the Geats, were the ancestors of the Swedes). The Lament for Beowulf, for chorus and orchestra, is a tad more modern in tone, using modality to suggest the ancient setting of the story as well as its grandeur and grief. It’s a spectacularly impressive work that all choral music fans should have.