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Roy HARRIS (1898-1979)
Kentucky Spring (1949) • [11:12]
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1949) • [27:49]
(Section One [8:43]; Section Two [10:00]; Section Three [5:14]; Section Four [3:52])
Symphony No. 5 (1942] [23:25]
(1st Movement [4:36]; 2nd Movement [10:31]; 3rd Movement [8:20])
Gregory Fulkerson, violin
Louisville Orchestra/Robert S. Whitney; Lawrence Leighton Smith (concerto)
Recorded: 1960, 1965, 1985, Louisville, Kentucky
Executive producer: Matthew Walters
Original Supervising Producer: Howard Scott
Annotation: Roy Harris and John Kennedy
Partial funding by Aaron Copland Fund for Music and National Endowment for the Arts.
world premiere recordings (Concerto; Kentucky)
FIRST EDITION FECD-0005 [62:49]


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info@firsteditionmusic.com

 

Roy Harris is one of the finest of American composers. His writing is gritty, heroic, pastoral and at times concerned with the great life issues. His thirteen symphonies stand at the apex of his creative output. The Third is the most famous - a single movement structure with striding energy; a pioneering and bravely singing spirit. He has a piercing sense of the epic and a luminous hand in his writing for orchestra. Kentucky Spring was written for Louisville as a commission. It is less of an epic statement; more of a portrayal of the essential poetic vigour of nature - self-renewing. It does not have the storming power of Bridge’s Enter Spring. It is more in the nature of John Foulds’ April-England - an eclogue but one that is vital with the shoots of spring.

The Violin Concerto is in five parts the first of which sings most eloquently and in pastoral measures. It is his only violin concerto although circa 1937/38 Harris completed one for Heifetz but then agreed with the performer that it was not really a suitable virtuoso vehicle. The material was subsumed into what became the Third Symphony. Country fiddle music puts in an appearance in Part II which might loosely be compared with the hurly-burly of the middle movement of the Moeran violin concerto. The concerto sports some flamboyant quasi-Paganinian pizzicato. Dashing whispered writing for orchestra provides a backdrop for the soloist’s sport. The remainder of the symphony has the soloist in almost continuously intense play, poignant and forceful.

The Fifth Symphony was written in 1943 and then revised two years later. There is no mistaking this as anything other than a war symphony. Harris dedicated the Symphony to the heroic and freedom-loving people of our great ally, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This was during that brief window in time when the UK, USA and USSR shared a common goal. With the war won and other pressures surfacing this chapter closed and turned to suspicion and worse. Perhaps the dedication hampered the progress of the symphony. Rather like Vaughan Williams, there were often shocking gear changes from one symphony to another. The Fourth Symphony by Harris was a long Folksong Symphony with full chorus and not shrinking from the use of cowboy songs (hear it with Stokowski on Vanguard or on a long-deleted EMI LP conducted by Abravanel - can anyone provide the writer with a CDR of the Abravanel, I wonder?). The Fifth returned to the epic themes of the Symphony 1933 and the Third. The Sixth and Seventh Symphonies also made the pilgrimage to the Holy Grail of major statements about the great issues of mankind. They reach a grand peak in the Seventh (hear it conducted by Ormandy on Albany or, just as good, on Naxos by Kuchar ).

In any event the Fifth was premiered by the Boston Orchestra conducted by Koussevitsky in 1943 and broadcast on short-wave to the USSR. In 1958 Harris travelled to the USSR to conduct the Symphony. During the war it was broadcast to the troops on eleven occasions. One can easily imagine the inspirational effect of the rhythmically punchy almost ruthless horn-lofted fanfare that opens the work. The turbulent first movement mixes suspenseful music with the flavour of mid-Western songs and dances. The second movement with its cortege-like funereal tread seems to speak of the gravest issues, of despair and of victory at the expense of pain and death. The finale is alive with unruly energy, which the Louisville players sometimes struggle with, but the essence is put across with fidelity. A vibraphone rings out in the centre of this movement, a glowing affirmative benediction as powerful as the similar strokes in the Third and Seventh symphonies. It ends in an upwardly surging breaker of golden brass sound rather like the horn-buoyant waves that round out the first movement of Bruckner’s Fourth.

I have a complaint in the case of this disc. I am surprised that two short and significant Harris works set down in Kentucky were not added. It was issued on LP on LS666 Epilogue - Profiles in Courage: JFK was recorded in Louisville on 11 May 1966. I am sure there is a good reason why it is not here but its absence is still acutely disappointing. All the more so when it is amongst that small clutch of Louisville tapes that were reissued by Albany on TROY027-2 alongside another Louisville Harris absentee - the overture When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

Technically speaking the best recording is the most recent - that of the Violin Concerto. Gregory Fulkerson’s violin is captured with real immediacy. This Kentucky Spring is in mono and while still enjoyable the sound takes on a suggestion of hardness.

Harris’s greatness and visionary zeal are reflected here providing the only recordings of these three fine works. Outstanding.

Rob Barnett



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