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Memories of a Child's Sunday Import
The symphonies of American composer Roy Harris (1898-1980) are really essays in the symphonic form rather than the traditionally structured vehicles we're so used to. This allows Harris's ideas to appear more as declarative statements (usually in the brasses), ideas that are subsequently buoyed (or molded) by strings underneath. Motion and mood govern Harris's works--as well as playfulness. The last three movements of Symphony 8 (1962) employ several delightful piano obbligato passages that reveal how much joy there is in his work. Perhaps the real surprise on this disc is Memories of a Child's Sunday, a three-movement work evoking the world of a child at play on a Midwestern Sunday afternoon. The Albany Symphony and conductor Alan Miller have grand feel for Harris's magic. Let's hope more Harris will follow soon. --Paul Cook
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In case it wasn't clear, this is highly recommended. Harris's Third Symphony is still available in several classic recordings; if you are familiar with that and like it, you will like this as well. These same forces have recently tackled the Second Symphony (in a spectacular recording) and there are current recordings of the 4th (not in the same league, in my opinion), 5th, 6th, and 7th (perhaps the finest of the symphonies yet recorded). Harris continued composing symphonies up until the American Bicentennial, but his "liberal" philosophy probably contributed to the damning reviews the later works received. I hope to hear them all someday.
The eight is a bit more appealing, being broken up into more shorter sections. Here Harris clearly gets his ideas across in each movement. The gem, I feel, on this CD is the Child's Sunday. These three works are captivating, somewhat in the way Hovhaness' music is, but still retaining Harris' trademark style.
But as for the "Great American Ninth," I'm not sure America has one. Most composers never got to nine. David Diamond wrote one, which I haven't heard. So did Hovhaness, which I have also not heard. Naxos recently produced the first recording of William Schuman's ninth. Nice, but also not the "great" symphony. Perhaps in America we should stick with our thirds instead of our ninths: Schuman's, Harris', Copland's, Hanson's, Ives', Piston's... works all deserving of the "great" title.
For me, Roy Harris' Nineth is one of those wonderfully complex works that cannot absorbed with one session and so, I find something new almost every time I listen to it.
I have heard the critique of Roy Harris that his Symphony's often lack smooth transistions; that they are 'sectional' and that certainly seems to be the case with the Nineth. The second movement settles into a sequence which feels repititious and which seems to lack purpose but it leads into a marvelous trumpet solo and we all know what Harris can do with trumpets and tympani. The result is that I feel almost to blame for concluding a lack of purpose in the first place.
The bottom line is that I feel compelled to listen again and again and again for both the enjoyment and curiosity with regard to the question of what makes a symphony "great". And, I go through the same same process with all of Harris' works including the Symphony 8 here and my favorite - the Seventh on the Naxos American Classics Naxos label.