Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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ROY HARRIS (1898-1979) Symphony No. 8 San Francisco Symphony (1962) * [26.19] Symphony No. 9 (1962) [28.14] Memories of a Child's Sunday (1945) [11.58]   * Alan Feinberg (piano) Albany SO/David Alan Miller rec April/Nov 1998, New York ALBANY RECORDS TROY 350 [66.34]



These are world premiere recordings and they fill a major gap.

Harris is one of the United States' greatest symphonists. His third symphony is celebrated everywhere however his seventh is the most immediately striking and deserves to be even more popular than the third.

Memories of a Child's Sunday is not at all the faux-naif piece you might have guessed from the title. The first movement is bell-haunted with horns intoning an awed prayer over a magical accompaniment luminously scored. The light is gentle not dazzling. In the second movement benevolent ghosts are portrayed and there is an ecclesiastical theme straight out of Russian Easter Festival. Playful 'wooziness' dominates with the occasional brass bark. The music seems to lean towards Scotland and Arnold's boozy Scottish Dances. Bugle calls echo and there are all the usual Harris hallmarks. Altogether a rather special suite although it seems to end without a feeling of summation.

The Ninth Symphony: I: undulating brass fanfares are absorbed and developed by the woodwind and the movement develops a raucous exuberance. II: The solo viola song evokes a picture of wandering pilgrimage. The calling flutes are taken up by the strings (4.20) and the French Horns rear up graciously (6.23) as if to assert Harris the prairie singer alight with the spirit of Walt Whitman. The trumpet takes the role of orator at the end of the movement which ends with a held vibraphone note. The finale is all string and brass figures projected buoyantly. The eager eagles wheel and turn ranging across a vast landscape. A superb repeated phase echo fanfare on the brass is vintage Harris at 2.40. The symphony concludes in Hansonian defiant shouts, humming and hovering tension and heroic bell-calls high up and noble.

The 8th Symphony is in five segments each separately tracked. Childhood and Youth is again bell-haunted but in addition there is a rustic 'pipe and tabor' dance and much Tippett-like bounce. The dark reaches of the next movement give place to high speed birdsong in its successor. The pianist's glinting tinkling rainfall skitters and intertwines with the flutes, woodwind and urgent strings. The finale flows in molten melodious torrents.

The ten pages of fully detailed notes are by Roy Harris expert, Dan Stehman. I recall writing to the Roy Harris Archive back in 1979. I received a long, friendly and informative letter from Dan. The situation was very different then. I had asked him about recordings. At that time the third symphony was intermittently available. The fifth could be tracked down on Louisville (later reissued on RCA Gold Seal in the UK). As for the rest it was largely silence. In the years since then quite a few works have made it to disc. The third has been recorded several times. The gloriously tolling seventh has been reissued (on Albany, of course!) and the sixth has appeared on Albany 064.

A winner of a disc if ever there was one! Highly recommended.


Rob Barnett

PS: Whatever happened to the New Zealand SO/Hugh Keelan recording of Harris No. 7? Koch International even announced a catalogue number: 3 7290 2 but I have seen no sign of the disc as yet


Rob Barnett

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