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Roy HARRIS (1889-1979)
Quintet for Piano and Strings (1940) [25:09]
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1945) [21:19]
String Quartet No. 3 (1948) [18:23]
Third Angle New Music Ensemble (Ron Blessinger (violin); Denise Huizenga (violin); Anna Schaum (viola); Hamilton Cheifetz (cello); Susan Smith (piano))
rec. June 2001, Pacific University, Forest Grove, Oregon. DDD
KOCH INTERNATIONAL CLASSICS KIC-CD-3-7515-2 [64:51]
Experience Classicsonline

We think of Roy Harris as the pioneer symphonist. There are after all fourteen symphonies not counting the Symphony for Voices. Little thought is paid to his chamber music or piano music. This disc logically collects together the most prominent chamber works. They are from the years between the Third and Seventh symphonies and as such catch Harris at one of his career peaks - possibly the peak.
 
The Piano Quintet was written while he was on the teaching staff at Westminster Choir College near Princeton. It was here that he met the Canadian pianist Beulah Duffy (later Johanna Harris) and it was for her that he wrote the Quintet. It carries the authentic Harris DNA including chugging ostinatos, heroic taciturn themes and protesting capricious surges - here often carried by the piano. The finale is a fugue but accorded the wily Harris treatment and a seething oratorical closure typical of the symphonies. The Violin Sonata is similarly complex but always buoyed up by the surge of victory, hard won. The second movement is a caressing and slow bubbling serenade with Rob Blessinger's violin especially honeyed. The third movement is subdued and darkly introspective - recalling similar moods in Frank Bridge. The finale is hay and square-dance playful rather than visionary. At the end the plainsman fiddler pushes his instrument higher and faster to end stubborn and typically take-it-or-leave-it. The Third Quartet - we never hear about the first two and were there any later ones? - is a series of four each alternating preludes and fugues seemingly written in admiration of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. His transcription of the Bach Art of the Fugue is, by the way, on Biddulph (see review). Each prelude and each fugue here has its own track. The Harris we know from the Third Symphony can be heard in the fugues. The final fugue is especially joyous. 
  
More Harris to come 'ere too long in the Naxos complete Roy Harris symphonies project. Marin Alsop has been in the studio with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for the two wartime symphonies: 5 and 6 and Acceleration. Alsop also made a fine job of the Third and Fourth a couple of years ago with the Colorado Symphony. Naxos will then have symphonies 3 and 4 (see review), 5 and 6, 7 and 9 (see review) to their name. Only another eight to go. I still have high hopes that Naxos will also record his complete choral works and perhaps add the two wonderfully impressive and otherwise bereft Rózsa motets To Everything There is a Season and Vanity of Vanities.
 
For now Koch have complemented the two Albany discs of Harris's music for solo piano and violin and piano (TROY105) and choir ‘I Hear America Singing!’ (TROY164). Not so very long ago Koch also issued the Schuman Sixth with the Roy Harris Seventh both conducted by Hugh Keelan (see review).
 
For now though this disc provides collector-listeners with fine stirring Harris in compact chamber form. The sentiments and spirit are familiar from  the symphonies but one can feel the pioneering Whitmanesque spirit straining at the bounds of the chamber medium.
 
This is a valuable contribution to the living Harris catalogue. The performances have the authentic confidence of Harris from his most exalted vintage and these are aided by engineering that presents a strong audio image. 
 
Rob Barnett
 

 


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