There is no question that Harris' most famous and beloved symphony is his Third, which has already been recorded in this Naxos series that will possibly record them all. Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4 'Folk Song Symphony'. This disc presents his Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6 (but which are presented in reverse order).
Symphony No. 6, 'Gettysburg', (1944) was written in the midst of World War II at a time when Americans were very much thinking about martial conflict. The symphony is in four movements that limn the Battle of Gettysburg. The movements are called Awakening, Conflict, Dedication and Affirmation. And like good tone-poems, these movements really do create a picture in sound of those phases of the Battle, including memorialization of the dead and affirmation of the necessity of the conflict. Those familiar with Harris' Third Symphony will certainly recognize some of his musical processes used here. There are, for instance, two instances of building excitement via shortening note values and increasingly dense orchestration, a process heard to greater effect in the middle of the Third. One could not ask for a better performance than that given by Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony.
Included as the last track on this disc is a movement called 'Acceleration' (1941) that contains material later recycled for the 6th Symphony, much of it in the 'Conflict' movement. It is effective in its own right.
The Symphony No. 5 (1942) was written to honor the Russian people's resistance and ultimate victory over the invading Germans early in World War II. When the symphony was premièred by Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony in 1943 it was broadcast both in the USA and in the Soviet Union. It is in three movements. The first movement, again reminiscent of the section of the Third mentioned above, grows out of a terse theme that is developed via the accelerando/crescendo technique already described. Another aspect of this method is the frequent brassy interjections of two, three, or four note motifs in quicker and quicker succession. The middle movement, itself in three distinct sections, begins with a funeral march and leads into a long section with divided strings playing a striving theme that then culminates in a chorale-like affirmation. The finale is contrapuntal throughout, again in some ways reminiscent of the fugal section of the Third, and it ends in a heroic section that recapitulates the thematic materials from earlier in the movement. On the whole, I must say, I prefer this symphony to the programmatic 6th. But both are strong representatives of Harris's symphonic oeuvre and both are given fine readings here. Recorded sound is quite good.