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Hanson: Violin Music / Susan Collins, David Miller

Release Date: 04/14/2009 
Label:  Tall Poppies   Catalog #: 197   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Raymond Hanson
Performer:  David MillerSusan Collins
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

R. HANSON Violin Sonata. 3 Fancies. Seascape. Idyll. An Etching. Legende. Portrait of Australia Susan Collins (vn); David Miller (pn) TALL POPPIES 197 (60:46)

Australian violinist Susan Collins has edited the violin music of Australian composer Robert Hanson and performs it in Tall Poppies’s release with Australian pianist David Miller. The notes connect Hanson with Hindemith, whose writings inspired him—though he had already been largely self-taught when he encountered Read more them—and suggest that he had a difficult time because his music seemed too advanced for the 1940s and 1950s and too conservative for the next two decades. The Violin Sonata, however, recalls Franck, Fauré, and even Ysaÿe more than it does Hindemith. Hanson couched the earnest first movement in an impassioned language that suits the violin’s expressive capabilities (and Collins’s) almost perfectly, with only the middle section’s harmonic ambiance suggesting Hindemith. The lush second movement offers the violinist many opportunities for displaying an opulent sound, and Collins possesses the tonal resources for the required expressivity, while the finale rises to rhetorical heights. If the Sonata on the whole might benefit from the performers allowing its forward-pressing materials occasional breathers, Collins’s and Miller’s sense of unrelieved exertion nevertheless clearly betokens a strong commitment that’s persuasive as well as infectious.

The Three Fancies from 1946 explores an expanded tonality with less obvious references to traditional tonal centers, and the overall impression comes closer to Hindemith’s, if it’s also occasionally wittier and more deeply imbued with an older style of rhetoric. The second movement pits filigree in the piano against a singing, lyrical line in the violin. The third (subtitled, according to Collins’s notes, “Of a Fugue that Wishes It Could Waltz”) seems the most severe. Seascape , from 1953, withdraws even farther from the Sonata’s Romantic ambiance. Collins suggests that though certain elements of Hindemith’s procedures may be recognizable in the work, it bears only a “minimal stylistic resemblance” to that composer’s śuvre . While Collins cites Hanson’s observation that “Joe Blow is important,” suggesting that he wished his compositions to be accessible, it’s not clear whether every Joe Blow (or, nowadays, perhaps every Joe the Plumber) will warm to the dense textures through which Hanson communicates his musical ideas. Idyll , from 1938, the earliest work on the program, relies, like the Sonata, more heavily on traditional tonal concepts; the interaction of the violin and piano often suggests a fresh approach to combining the instruments. The more subdued An Etching , from 1946, according to Collins’s notes, may not be intended as an evocation of birdcalls, yet she points to exact representations of the bell minor, the pied currawong, the Eastern whipbird, and especially the willi wagtail. The nine-odd-minute Legende , like the Three Fancies , comes from 1946; plaintive and seemingly introverted, its opening section pits a more active piano part against the violin’s lyrical song, as did the second of the Fancies , while in the central section, the violin accompanies. Hanson, according to Collins, transcribed the more easily flowing Portrait of Australia , from music for a film by the same name, commissioned by Caltex Oil.

The engineers have captured the duo in reverberant recorded sound that perhaps occasionally blurs complex chords but conveys the instruments’ lively presence. Collectors of Australian music and admirers of Collins and Miller will find their collection rewarding, but your general Joe, either of the Blow or Plumber variety, may not find in Hanson’s music the immediate accessibility he sought. Recommended, therefore, more particularly to specialists of the kinds enumerated.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham

Never dull.

anson was pretty much self-taught as a composer. Born in Sydney in 1913 he taught piano amongst other things before the Second World War, which interrupted his conservatoire studies. He became a teacher of Aural Training at the New South Wales conservatorium after the war ended and a valued teacher to a generation of composers and instrumentalists. He died of a heart attack in 1976.

This bald summary doesn't prepare one for the unexpected modernity of much of Hanson's writing. The Violin Sonata Op.5 is an early work written in 1939 and still therefore a product of his self-taught compositional relative youth. It really is a sonata for violin and piano because the latter, Hanson's own instrument, is just as feisty as the fiddle. There is for instance strong chordal writing, sometimes overpoweringly so. The idiom is at times vaguely Delian harmonically, though I wouldn't want to make too much of it - there are Baxian elements as well. Hanson clearly liked false endings, which here is a formal weakness. The structure is quite diffuse and one feels the piano writing is almost too big to fit into the democratic duo ensemble, especially the ceaseless roulades of the finale with its probably accidental Hindemith-like moments. It is an exacting, exciting work, sprawling and rather undisciplined but it has real personality and a 'stance'. The violin's accompanying figures and decorations in the finale are almost ancillary to the piano's garrulous strength; I'd even go so far as to say that at times it becomes that rather rare post-Mozartian and Beethovenian beast, a sonata for piano and violin.

The Three Fancies of 1946 lives up to its name. The first is busy and loquacious, rather as one imagines Hanson to have been, but the central Fancy is different. Here the fiddle's rarefied line is contrasted against the piano's increasingly changeable garrulity. Hanson wrote Seascape in 1953. Again the piano writing is sinewy, purposeful, and here Hindemith-inflected. The intervals are fascinating and it's a most impressive work - brief, urgent, and sweeping. Idyll hearkens back to Debussy and Delius. An Etching was the last of the works in this recital to be written, in 1969, and is short and strikingly atonal but also embraces the kind of Australasian bird calls that have so permeated the musical language of some composers from the country. The Legende is serious and reflective without becoming at all mordant, whilst the last piece - Portrait of Australia Op.46 - is a transcription by the composer of the theme from the film of the same name.

Susan Collins and David Miller respond to Hanson's very personal chromatic writing, with great perception. Both musicians bear tremendous technical and musical responsibilities in these works and they do so with acute assurance. The recording is first class. The yellowing newspaper style booklet drove me to distraction and there aren't enough biographical details for the newcomer, but don't be sidetracked by such ephemeral matters. This is the music of an Australian iconoclast. Sometimes you'll like it, sometimes you'll recoil, but it's never dull.

-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 5 by Raymond Hanson
Performer:  David Miller (Piano), Susan Collins (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Fancies (3) by Raymond Hanson
Performer:  David Miller (Piano), Susan Collins (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Seascape by Raymond Hanson
Performer:  Susan Collins (Violin), David Miller (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Idyll for Violin and Piano, Op. 2 by Raymond Hanson
Performer:  David Miller (Piano), Susan Collins (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
An Etching by Raymond Hanson
Performer:  David Miller (Piano), Susan Collins (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Legende by Raymond Hanson
Performer:  David Miller (Piano), Susan Collins (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Portrait of Australia, Op. 46 by Raymond Hanson
Performer:  David Miller (Piano), Susan Collins (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 

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