Back in the late 70’s, when I was going through my post-Mahler phase, two LP’s were on my turntable a lot. They both featured works by composers who were then unknown in the UK. The first was ‘Chuck’ Gerhardt conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra (a crack session band comprising front desk players from the leading London orchestras) in Howard Hanson’s Symphony No 2 “the Romantic.” (See photo of Hanson to above). This is a wonderfully passionate account that is playing on vinyl as I write. It eclipses any subsequent recordings including the composer’s own interpretation on Mercury. The wonderful 12” RCA Gold Seal LP sleeve has a beautifully atmospheric black and white photo of Gerhardt by Christian Steiner (see footnote) on the cover smoking a politically incorrect cigarette. CD jewel cases certainly killed the art of record sleeve design stone dead!
The second LP was Rudolf Kempe’s world premiere recording of Erich Korngold’s F Sharp Symphony with the Munich Philharmonic (Photo of Korngold to right). Again an RCA record, this time with a superb colour photo of Alma Mahler’s bust of Korngold on the sleeve. I have put the LP on as I write, the Munich brass blazes in the scherzo with a sound that puts any of the subsequent digital recordings to shame.
Both symphonies are fine romantic works, but certainly not masterpieces. Today the Hanson is largely forgotten. But the Korngold is quite well known, and attracts the attention of conductors such as André Previn. Is the Korngold really that much better music, or is it just musical fashion? And whatever happened to Howard Hanson?
Steiner, after graduating from the Berlin Hochschule fur Musik, won several national competitions in Germany and it was one of these awards which first brought him to New York to further his piano studies. He comes from a long line of musicians. His father was a member of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and his brothers were members of the Berlin Philharmonic. Steiner made piano recording with RCA-Reader’s Digest, and was a guest soloist with orchestras in Berlin and New York; more recent engagements at the keyboard include performances with the Berkeley Symphony under Kent Nagano, and with the National Symphony or Mexico. He also performed chamber music with members of the Berlin Philharmonic Octet and recitals with his late brother Peter in Europe and the USA. Among the singers he has collaborated in recital are Jessye Norman and Carol Vaness. In addition, Steiner is the artistic director of The Tannery Pond Concerts, a summer chamber music festival in the Berkshires.
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