Classical & Opera Albums:

Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4

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Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 Naxos 8.559227

  • Composer: Roy Harris
  • Conductor: Marin Alsop
  • Orchestra: Colorado Symphony Orchestra
  • Choir: Colorado Symphony Orchestra Chorus

Strongly influenced by his native Oklahoma, Roy Harris studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, returning to America to establish himself as one of the leading composers of his generation. The backbone of his output is the series of thirteen symphonies, which span his career from 1933 to 1976. Described by the conductor, Serge Koussevitzky, as ‘the first great symphony by an American composer’, Symphony No. 3 is remarkable for its broad, sweeping melodies evoking vast landscapes, and for its affecting fusion of plainsong, Renaissance polyphony, hymnody and folk song. In Symphony No. 4 ‘Folk Song Symphony’, Harris draws on an eclectic mix of folk material from a variety of regional and ethnic roots that include cowboy songs, frontier ballads, spirituals and marching songs. This is the first release of a projected Naxos cycle of the thirteen Roy Harris orchestral symphonies.

Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 Review

…Symphony No. 3 (1938), like much of Copland’s music, builds melodic moods with the black notes, moods he and his fellow romantics have accustomed us to so they no longer feel dark in and of themselves. They have become the cast we put on our romanticism. Here in Harris’s work, we go up and down the scale in some unnamed minor key, first with strings, then with strings and woodwinds. At some point a solo bassoon, oboe, and flute are feathered in, and finally the brass are admitted, led by solo horn and trumpet. The whole piece, once in motion, tends to remain in motion, helped along later by tympani which turns the proceedings into a gallop. (Harris grew up in Oklahoma.) This music was written before World War II broke out and gives voice to a national innocence that many Americans, though not many of its intelligentsia, shared. It is pastoral music which registers no significant change in its implied view of the world from music written a century before. Koussevitsky called it “the first great symphony by an American composer.”

Symphony No. 4 (1939) on the same disc amounts to seven popular folkish songs for chorus and orchestra and is several degrees lighter than its disc-mate. It really belongs in a pops concert where it would likely outshine most music around it. There is no hint of condescension, as there doubtless is in my writing about it. It gets more out of its material than anyone could expect, but a symphony it is not. The least familiar piece of the group, “Negro Fantasy,” is the most interesting, perhaps because I don’t know the two folk songs on which it is based or because they are so utterly (and effectively) transformed… Bob Neill – Positive Feedback Online

Track Listing:

Disc 1:
  1. Symphony No. 3 00:17:59
  2. I. The Girl I Left Behind Me 00:03:51
  3. II. Western Cowboy 00:10:25
  4. III. Interlude: Dance Tunes for Strings and Percussion 00:03:04
  5. IV. Mountaineer Love Song 00:07:44
  6. V. Interlude: Dance Tunes for Full Orchestra 00:03:06
  7. VI. Negro Fantasy 00:09:20
  8. VII. Johnny Comes Marching Home 00:03:17
Release date NZ
August 1st, 2013
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