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Raymond HANSON (1913-1976) Complete Piano Works
Tonya Lemoh (piano)
rec. 2019-2020, Conservatorium of Music, Newcastle, Australia GRAND PIANO GP860-61 [2 CDs: 106:51]
Autodidact Australian composer and pianist Raymond Charles Hanson has enjoyed scant attention. He is fortunate to have had his music found and articulated with such authority and love by award-winning Australian/Sierra Leonean pianist Tonya Lemoh. She also provides the buttressing notes for this release which specifically document each work. Ms Lemoh now does for Hanson what she has already done for Joseph Marx and Svend Erik Tarp.
Hanson was a leading lecturer in composition at the New South Wales State Conservatorium and ultimately was made a Member of the Order of Australia. His piano works were performed by Gieseking, Firkušný and Friedman. Encountering American servicemen in wartime Tasmania, he caught the jazz bug and its DNA can be found in some of his music. His worklist includes concertos for piano, trumpet, trombone and violin, orchestral works, film scores, songs, choral works, operas and chamber music. He was fascinated by the writings of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. In this he was not alone for they also drew in Frank Bridge, John Alden Carpenter, Zemlinsky, Langgaard, Rosner, Martinsson, Harvey and Dett, He set the Gitanjali poems in his oratorio The Immortal Touch; now that is a work I would like to hear.
This is the first recording of his complete piano works and it includes a number of world premier recordings. On Holidays is a carefree and uncomplicated piece where the canvas is not densely woven. There’s a fellow feeling with the best of the piano miniatures of Moeran and Bax. As the composer admitted Quizzic comes from “quizzical”. It was written in recollection of someone Hanson had known who had a “strange odd sense of humour, who sees humour where most people never see it and vice versa”. It is a step outwards from On Holidays with discords of a gentle disposition. The Sonatina, says Hanson, is a 1949 piece that weaves in the Dies Irae. It has more discords than its earlier disc-mates. At heart it is of a soft character among all the disillusion and dark rills.
The three movement Sonata is related to the Fall of Paris in the Second World War. It’s a work of struggle, as may be expected from the inspiration, except that it was written before 1944. Its trudging dramatic progress across the two outer movements suggests a softened version of Howard Ferguson’s Sonata which dates from 1938-40. While the central Andante has regretful poetry in its pores. The Idylle was “inspired by the ringing spring song of the Satin-birds, interrupted by the impudent Soldier-birds at Mona Vale, Sydney”. The composer broadcast the Idylle on the ABC network in December 1942. Its songful ways are a shade away from On Holidays. Procrastination is in fugal form. It cost Hanson dear with many false starts; hence the title. The Five Pieces carry titles such as Brioso, With Great Freedom and Toccata. Each is short and are said to evince “strongly modernist tendencies” While oblique sparks and smithereens are struck off earlier things like On Holiday and Idylle these five pieces are not all that obdurate. True, they are little dank and trail lichen strands but they are, in essence, not far removed from the British lyric piano pastures.
The second disc launches with Episodes on an English Folk Song, ‘Tarry Trowsers’ (1948). It’s a seventeen-minute sequence and its sections are not separately tracked. Hanson’s wife, Moira, is the dedicatee. ‘Tarry Trowsers’ is, we are told, a folk song. The music is slightly Percy Grainger-like with some highly inventive variants and treatments. Lemoh’s notes refer to episodes touching on Handel, Purcell, Prokofiev, Brahms and Scriabin. The rippling drama of the finale is no obstacle to Hanson ending it with a light-hearted trill rather than a summit of passion. Ronald Stevenson, no stranger to folksongs and variations, would have loved this.
Balmoral Beach makes winking and blinking use of ‘I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside’ It’s fey yet full on. The Garden Seat takes a tincture from On Holiday and Idylle. One feels a song, possibly a popular song, in its wings. The six Preludes were written in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Each is prefaced by a short sentimental text by Marion Boulton. Hanson called them ‘mood thoughts’. These are not read out but are reproduced in the booklet. Impressions usually grand of nature. The titles are: ‘The peaceful valley’; ‘Granite hills’, ‘Sunset through rain’, ‘A wind rakes the valley’, ‘Lonely mountains - stolid sentinels’ and ‘Dawn rises’. The music is lighter and more unbuttoned than the notes might suggest. Then come the splashing patterns of Flight (1974). My Day (1960) is often plangent and sometimes with a slow pulse. These are six very short pieces harking back to an unclouded childhood. The final Five Portraits (1948) are from much the same ‘land’. The titles are ‘Daddy Bach’, ‘King Arthur’ (very much a toddler’s King Arthur)¸ ‘Hans Andersen’ (a slow parting of the mists)¸ ‘Scrooge’ (which evinces a depth of character … and even fear) and ‘Ginger Meggs’ (a cartoon character).
Lemoh does not breathe too much grown-up drama into the more naïve pieces. That’s quite an accomplishment She is fully equal to the Sonata’s and Sonatina’s demands of technique and, critically, their occluded subtlety. The music itself is sure-footedly founded in the English lyric piano tradition but refreshingly vies with its constraints and transcends its roots.
Contents CD 1 [55:23]
1. On Holidays, Op. 1 (1933) [2:47]
2. Quizzic, Op. 9 (1940) [2:17]
3. Piano Sonatina, Op. 26 (1949) [13:05]
Piano Sonata, Op. 12 (1938–40, revised 1963) [21:55]
7. Idylle, Op. 15 (1942) [4:26]
8. Procrastination, Op. 8 [4:03] (1939)
5 Piano Pieces (undated)
9. No. 1. Brioso [1:35]
10. No. 2. Rubato [1:34]
11. No. 3. Ben marcato [0:29]
12. No. 4. With great freedom [1:59]
13. No. 5. Toccata [0:46] CD 2 [52:40]
1. Episodes on Tarry Trowsers, Op. 24 (1948) [17:00]
2. Balmoral Beach (undated) [1:33]
3. The Garden Seat (1974) [1:46]
Preludes, Op. 11 (1940–41)
4. Prelude No. 1 [2:41]
5. Prelude No. 2 [2:52]
6. Prelude No. 3 [2:30]
7. Prelude No. 4 [1:36]
8. Prelude No. 5 [1:35]
9. Prelude No. 6 [2:13]
10. Flight (1974) [2:25]
My Day, Op. 43 (1960)
11. No. 1. The Morning Sun [0:33]
12. No. 2. Off to School [0:33]
13. No. 3. Midday Heat [1:50]
14. No. 4. Afternoon Swim [0:46]
15. No. 5. Feeling Sleepy [1:11]
16. No. 6. Song of the Night [0:52]
Five Portraits, Op. 23 (1948)
17. No. 1. Daddy Bach [1:46]
18. No. 2. King Arthur [2:02]
19. No. 3. Hans Andersen [2:03]
20. No. 4. Scrooge [2:44]
21. No. 5. Ginger Meggs [1:24]