The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Susan Collins (violin) David Miller (piano)
Composer: Raymond Hanson

Australian Raymond Hanson (1913–76) looks set to become one of those composers whose music, freed from the stylistic constraints of time and place, enjoys a posthumous reputation way beyond anything it experienced in his lifetime. Such are the vagaries of taste and opinion that Hanson’s distinctive amalgam of Hindemith, Ravel and Delius fell on deaf ears during the 1930s and 1940s as being too advanced. Yet by the 1960s, when the avant-garde was in full swing, his tonal language had effectively had its day. Fascinatingly this recital shows Hanson responding (most notably with An Etching of 1969) with an atonal zeal that seems light years away from his masterly Violin Sonata, unbelievably written before Hanson had received any professional training in composition.

Hanson is very much his own man, but his closest equivalent is probably Arnold Bax, with whom he shares a predilection for mixtures of whole-tone and chromatic harmony, coupled with a virtuoso command of texture and post-Romantic rhetoric that effortlessly leads the ear on. Susan Collins, who made Hanson’s violin music the subject of her doctoral thesis and now teaches violin at Newcastle University, Australia, plays these extraordinary scores with a remarkable sureness of touch, following even the most unexpected shifts in phrasing and expressive direction with micro-fine precision. Her warm, rich sound works wonders in bringing this music alive, enhanced by a generous, medium-paced vibrato and sensitivity to dynamic shading that comes as no surprise when one learns that her mentors have included the great Thomas Zehetmair. Hanson’s hugely demanding piano writing could hardly wish for a more persuasive advocate that David Miller, and the recording projects a most believable impression of a medium-sized concert hall.