Friday, October 03, 2008

What I am Listening to Today

Albany Records has recently released an important recording, documenting the often uneven but always fascinating Symphonies of Roy Harris.

Harris has to me always been an "also ran" among American Composers. Never quite reaching the level of competency and popularity of Copland or even Diamond, Schuman, Rochberg or Persichetti. Yet, perhaps out of curiosity and frequently enjoying the restless energy of his works, I always welcome a new recording of his Symphonies.

The Albany, under the direction of Ian Hobson and his Polish group Sinfonia Varsovia, features works by Douglas Moore, (Symphony # 2), Cecil Effinger (Symphony # 1) Morton Gould (Cowboy Rhapsody) and the Roy Harris Symphony # 11.

Harris' 11th was a New York Philharmonic Centennial commission and was first performed in February 1968 by the NYP, conducted by the composer. Like so much of his work, it is intense, brassy, dense, rugged and craggy. Unlike his best work, the Symphony # 3 for example, it is also a bit repetitious, awfully strident, lacking in organic development and meanders for its 20 minute duration. The opening, featuring an amplified piano is striking, but the repetitious use of the figure soon wears upon the listener.

I have not listened to the other works yet, with the exception of the amusing Gould Rhapsody that opens the recording.

I was taken by surprise by this release and wonder if it is a harbinger of more Harris by this group. Marin Alsop and Bournemouth is slowly recording a Harris cycle for Naxos as well. Will be interesting to finally hear the Symphonies # 10, 12 and 13 which were critically panned and have likely not played again. And, it is about time for a new Symphony # 1 (Symphony 1933) recording!

Albany Troy 1042 Released September 2008. I think most of these are first recordings. HB has it as does CDUniverse

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