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Harris - Symphonies Nos 7 & 9 CD

2.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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  • Harris - Symphonies Nos 7 & 9
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Product details

  • Conductor: Theodore Kuchar
  • Composer: Roy Harris
  • Audio CD (1 July 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B000069CV1
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 152,802 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Format: Audio CD
In his hey-day in the 1930s and 40s Roy Harris was regarded pretty much on the level of Copland and Gershwin as a significant US composer. His one-movement 3rd symphony (well worth a listen) was acclaimed as the first great American symphony. While Copland and Barber (and even the more challenging Ives) have gone from strength to strength in terms of recordings and attention, Harris has yet to be taken up in any big way. This is a pity, because at his best he has a refreshing approach to harmony which once heard can't be mistaken for anyone else, though his 'Memories of a Child's Sunday', for example, should appeal to people who like John Barry.
I'll confess I can't get much from the 9th on this disc (or any other), but the 7th is an enjoyable one-movement symphony with a delightful rhythmic conclusion. The real gem on this disc is Harris' beautiful elegy for John F. Kennedy. Clocking in at a mere 8 minutes, it effortlessly side-steps all the musical cliches which the genre of elegy invites. Harris divides the piece into a first half of broad dramatic gestures before taking things into a lyrical but taut semi-march sequence where bell-like sounds are left hanging after the main chords have been stopped. It's beautiful, eerie, touching, and is superbly resolved in the last few bars. For this piece alone this Naxos CD is one I couldn't be without.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I had high hopes for this disc after reading the previous review, as the Roy Harris 7th symphony is one of my favourite American works. Sorry but this performance is dire, The Old mono recording by Ormandy and the Philadelphia (Albany Troy 256 )knocks this feeble attempt into a cocked hat, it has far more punch!. The 9th is not much better. For a really good performance of the 9th , I recommend the David Alan Miller /Albany Symphony Orchestra performance(Also on Albany, Troy 350 )Now I am sure that they would make a good job of the 7th!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9b120960) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b12d4b0) out of 5 stars Kuchar answers the 2 Sept. 2002
By Thomas F. Bertonneau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This is a positive review (anyone who likes American music should buy this disc), which nevertheless takes up what I would call the "Harris Question." Precisely because the case of Roy (born Leroy) Ellsworth Harris (1898-1979) needs arguing, Theodore Kuchar's traversal of Symphonies Nos. 7 and 9, along with the "Epilogue," so called, to JFK's "Profiles in Courage," is welcome. It might seem peculiar that the argument for Harris as a significant creator of symphonies in an American vernacular should be taken up by a Ukrainian ensemble, but Kuchar's National Symphony Orchestra has already documented symphonic repertory by Creston and others. The orchestra is a good one and the conductor has a "feel" for the American sound; Kuchar, I believe, is American-trained. At one time it was a given that Harris was a leading light among American composers. Charles Mills, writing in David Ewen's 1942 symposium "Modern Composers," described Harris as a composer of "solid, block-like tonal combinations in heavily accented rhythms, and more often than not in asymmetrical designs," who in his Symphony No. 3 (1939) had produced a major work of "universal appeal... to musicians and laymen alike." The Third, Mills wrote, was "a sincere and important expression of intrinsic worth and meaning"; Mills went on to quote Serge Koussevitsky as saying that the Third represented "the first truly tragic symphony by an American." It is a fact that the Third quickly acquired and long held the status of the most performed symphony by an American. On the strength of it, moreover, Harris began receiving the commissions that eventually drew from him some thirteen or sixteen symphonies altogether, depending on who does the counting. (And incidentally made him a millionaire.) Yet, apart from the Third, who is familiar with any of Harris' other symphonies? Numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 have been recorded, but remain less known than the symphonies of Schuman, Creston, Mennin, Piston, or Diamond. What is it in the work of these arguably lesser lights (Schuman was once Harris' student) that gives them more appeal posthumously than Harris? The answer is that Schuman's Third or Creston's Second or Mennin's Fifth, like Harris' Third, possesses real "symphonic impetus" or "momentum." Right away, the listener feels swept up in the forward motion of the music. It needs to be stated that, for Harris, "symphonic impetus" did not come naturally. One senses this immediately in Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 (the latter subtitled "Gettysburg"). There are those impressive sonic "blocks" noted by Mills, but the music never advertises any particular destination, and the movements tend to cut off abruptly (and arbitrarily) rather than reach a convincing climax; the episodes are exciting but they don't add up. Until hearing Kuchar's performance of the Symphony No. 7 (1952, revised 1955), I would have put it under the same description. What Kuchar finds that escaped Eugene Ormandy in his old mono Columbia recording is - exactly - "symphonic impetus" and, so to speak, a "destination." In Kuchar's conception, No. 7 nearly matches No. 3 as Harris' most cogent symphonic score; by making the rhythms more plastic, he propels the music. The bitonal polyphony of chorales and canons, which makes for a superstructure unfolding over the repeated passacaglia theme, becomes, in this new reading, coherent and directed. The stereo sound also contributes to the effect. (Ormandy on Columbia, reissued by Albany, always sounded constricted and tinny to my ears.) We get the muscular "dance symphony" that Harris, in his own description of No. 7, apparently intended. Symphony No. 9, too, benefits by Kuchar's superintendence. A previous, recent recording on Albany under David Alan Miller made an excellent case, but I would laud Kuchar for taking the argument several degrees farther. The music is still more sectional than in No. 7, but Kuchar gives the three movements an overall symphonic "shape" that greatly benefits the whole. These works require a large body of strings with a plush sound, which the Ukrainians deliver. The atmosphere of the recording venue is conducive to the overtones that Harris' depends on for effect when he writes for vibraphone, especially prominent in No. 9. I would hope to hear more of Harris from Kuchar and his players. They would be able to make the case, if any one might, for Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, the former dedicated to the (then) Soviet People. Recommended.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b12d504) out of 5 stars Eloquent Music 3 Jan. 2005
By David A. Wend - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I have heard only the 3rd and 6th symphonies of Roy Harris prior to receiving this disc as a gift. Roy Harris, for me, has a great sense of elegiac rhythm. His music sounds as if the result of long contemplation, weaving long melodies that are engaging to listen to but are not perhaps memorable in themselves. His music builds, note upon note, into something very moving.

The Seventh Symphony (1952, rev. 1955) is a continual metamorphosis of ideas cast in a single movement. The music begins with the lower strings, progresses to add the upper strings and woodwinds, followed by the brass and tympani, and gradually develops from somber tones to boisterous and dance-like themes; finally become a triumphant blaze at the conclusion.

The Ninth Symphony (1962) was a commission from the Philadelphia Orchestra and each of the three movements bear subtitles from the U.S. Constitution and from the Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (in the three sections of the third movement). The first is titled "We the people," and the second movement has "...to form a more perfect Union. The third movement is broken into three sections, each with their own title: "...to promote the general welfare" (the overall title), "Of life immense in passion, pulse, power" (Part I); "Cheerful for the freest action formed" (Part II); "The Modern Man I Sing" (Part III). Much like the Seventh Symphony, this work proceeds with the orchestra building in a quasi-fugal complexity. The symphony opens with bells and percussion moving on to an interesting rhythm that exudes confidence. The second movement has a beautiful elegiac quality played mainly by the strings. Brass and strings open the third movement, which reminds me of the Third Symphony in scoring. The music becomes more pastoral in mood with a dialogue between the various instruments and the strings. The brass and tympani return in full force and the music returns to that of the first movement.

This CD also includes the Epilogue to Profiles in Courage - JFK, written on the assassination of President Kennedy. It is a moving piece that recalls the President and his ideas rather than giving us a funeral dirge. The strings play with brass and tubular bells, and for a brief time a bass drum quickens the tempo before the music ends quietly.

What I like about Roy Harris' music is the way he uses the orchestra - the long themes that seem to shimmer and have a luminous quality to them. It seems to me like an eloquent person speaking on some subject and making some complex idea clear in a new way. Roy Harris has a voice that needs to be heard and this CD helps a great deal.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b12d93c) out of 5 stars Here's the Roy Harris of the Third Symphony 10 Aug. 2003
By Jenny Hanniver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I've been generally disappointed by much of Harris' symphonic music after the triumph of his Third Symphony (which remains, after many years, one of my top-ten favorites, right up there with Mozart's 41st and Copland's Third). In these late symphonies, however, he got his act together again and we are presented with the same sonorous long-line -- almost Gregorian -- passages as in the Third, along with brilliant orchestration.
The sound quality is not quite as good as usual on Naxos. Kuchar's conducting seems good to me, but I haven't previously been familiar with these pieces, so I can't be certain of that.
As usual with Naxos -- a genuine bargain.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b12d924) out of 5 stars Naxos does it again 11 Jan. 2003
By Timothy Hulsey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Excellent budget compilation featuring two of Roy Harris's seldom-performed later symphonies (and one short symphonic poem inspired by the assassination of J.F.K.). For those of you who are unfamiliar with Harris, he's a very appealing composer. His music is populist, rather than avant-garde, yet he takes interesting liberties with musical form that we "longhair" types can readily appreciate. What's more, Harris doesn't shy away from patriotic American themes in his music; his Symphony no. 9, featured here, is based on the poetry of Walt Whitman _and_ the Preamble to the Constitution.
Theodore Kuchar and the Ukrainian Symphony deliver a consistently high-caliber performance for this CD. The program is solid, the sound quality excellent, and the price unbeatable. Naxos American Classics has done it again.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By David Saemann - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This CD of Roy Harris's later music demonstrates how he developed from the lucid sound world of his popular 3rd Symphony. He inhabits his own sound world in the two symphonies. It's almost a modernist take on Berlioz, with much manipulation of orchestral color in an emotionally dark context. There is no soaring theme, as in the 3rd Symphony, but instead there is a subtle manipulation of motifs and a real sense of drama to the construction. One can hear why a European conductor/composer like Rafael Kubelik was so fond of Harris's music. Indeed, with the Kubelik connection, there is also the reflection that the emotional world of these two symphonies has a lot in common with Martinu's six symphonies. As for the performances, they seem excellent, with much beauty added by the rich Russian sound of the strings. Sound engineering is first-rate. On the whole, this is essential listening for American Music since the Second World War.
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