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Ross HARRIS (b. 1945)
Violin Concerto (2010) [22:39]
Symphony No. 5 (2013) [42:34]
Ilya Gringolts (violin); Sally-Anne Russell (mezzo-soprano)
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra/Garry Walker; Eckehard Stier
rec. Auckland Town Hall, New Zealand, 14–15 August 2013 (Symphony); 19–20 February 2015 (Concerto)
world première recordings
NAXOS 8.573532 [65:24]

Symphonist Ross Harris studied and taught in his native New Zealand. He appears to have had the confidence not to feel the need to spend time at any of London's three leading colleges or at the Juilliard or any of the Continental conservatoires. Much associated with the Auckland Philharmonia, an orchestra that has premièred his first five symphonies and Cello Concerto, he has had a residency with them. The orchestra can also be heard in Harris's Symphony 4 and the Cello Concerto on Naxos (review) as well as in Symphonies 2 and 3 (8.572574).

Harris's short and ferocious five-part Violin Concerto is delicate yet steely. Although there are some dreamy Bergian romantic-expressionist pages (Part 3), even the poignant searching moments are slightly acidic which is down to the composer and not any fault in the playing, recording or venue. The flittering Part 4 is especially memorable for the solo line which is in constant balletic pirouette. In this work Gringolts has few moments in which to rest. The Concerto was commissioned for Anthony Marwood and premièred by him with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Tecwyn Evans in 2010. The composer is fortunate in having Gringolts, who has made an elite reputation through for his DG and other recordings: Prokofiev and Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich 1, Weinberg and Arensky/Taneyev.

The Fifth Symphony adheres to an unusual structural pattern: Adagio - Song - Scherzo - Song - Scherzo - Song - Adagio. It was inspired by the poetry of Hungarian poet Panni Palasti and funded by Christopher Marshall, who also commissioned the Violin Concerto. Two substantial Adagios (10:40 and 9:29) provide the outer frame. Both are thoughtful and mournful with the first including a updraft rising to a towering blast of protest. The final Adagio ends quietly but there's no unclouded resolution. The two Scherzos are shorter with the first memorable for some acrid klezmer-like moments. Shostakovich puts in a pitiless appearance later on in a jagged collage of sound suggestive of mechanised warfare. The second Scherzo is a bleak and sometimes malignant affair where dance episodes are remorselessly swept away. The refreshingly clean-voiced mezzo, Sally-Anne Russell sang in the work's premiere, Her touchingly moving role can be heard in her unaffected super-sharp enunciation. This is not mere declamation and so often comes across as if Russell is whispering confidences. Lessons learned from my father is an object lesson in a composer letting words dictate the musical phrases. The songs have a communicative innocence and simplicity but Palasti's poetry — which inspired Ross to write the Symphony — draws on the poet having endured the siege of Budapest in World War II. It is not too fanciful to feel the corrosive tragedy of war in the Adagios and its remorseless violence in the Scherzos.

The booklet notes by Rod Biss are in English only. The text of Symphony No. 5's set poems is included in the liner page-fold.

Orchestral tone and clarity is smooth and clean. This is the third disc in Naxos's continuing journey with Ross Harris and I will not be surprised if there are more.

Rob Barnett



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