HANSON: Symphony No. 2, Op. 30 "Romantic,"
COPLAND: Excerpts from Billy the Kid/Rodeo, GRIFFES: The White Peacock/ The
Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan, Op. 8, GOULD:
The late Charles Gerhardt loved Howard Hanson's "Romantic" symphony. He first heard it via the 1939 Columbia recording with the composer conducting, later Hanson's 1958 stereo remake with the Eastman Rochester Orchestra. The performance heard on this CD is actually Gerhardt's second recording; he was not totally satisfied with the first, which never was issued. The second recording was made in December 1967, a definitive performance/recording of an American masterpiece, the performance of a lifetime of this score, quite superior to competing versions including those by Gerard Schwarz, Leonard Slatkin—and the composer himself. I have seen a letter Hanson wrote to Gerhardt praising his recording, calling it the finest ever and totally approving the few retouchings Gerhardt brought to the score (in particular, addition of an upward woodwind flourish just before the final chord). Totally irrelevant but perhaps of interest is the fact that the closing of the second movement of Gerhardt's recording was used to great effect in the 1979 film Alien just after Sigourney Weaver conquers the "alien," and in the closing credits as well.
This CD is worth owning just for the Hanson but it contains other treasures: excerpts from Copland's Billy the Kid and Rodeo, and two works of Charles Tomlinson Griffes, both slightly retouched by Gerhardt: The White Peacock and The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan, in performances that make competing versions sound prosaic indeed. As a brief filler we have Morton Gould's Tropical, complete with appropriate aviary sounds. The famed Kenneth Wilkinson masterminded the sonics with his usual expertise, and Chesky's transfers are outstanding.
R.E.B. (Sept. 1999)