Here are recordings of three tonal and melodic American symphonies.You are
destined to make life-log friends with them.
ROY HARRIS SYMPHONY NO 3.
I have been a keen supporter of Roy Harriss music ever since I heard
the RCA Victrola LP of the Boston SO/Koussevitsky account of No. 3. Wasnt
it coupled with some Sibelius: Pohjolas Daughter? All very apt as this
symphony, with its single movement, has obvious Sibelian references (Symphony
No 7) without being totally in thrall. Harris adds his own brand of intensity
and emotional concentration usually concentrated on the longest singing lines
on the strings but also distinguished by stormy monumental brass. Listen
out also for the yearning flute at 5:25 leading into a great chorale and
the same instruments arabesquing leaf-fall at 7:00.
Harris builds a delicious tension at 7:24 onwards with lightly undulating
Sibelian rustlings and a magical vibraphone note resonating three times (8:00).
The twists and turns of a typical Harris melody (established long before
this symphony - try the first symphony 1933 and see what I mean) are
irresistible. At 10:20 we get a resolute striking of attitudes soon to develop
into an exciting Waltonian brass and drum dance echoing down eternity (12:50).
The antiphonal effects pervading the heights and depths of the orchestra
register wonderfully in the refurbished 20 bit sound (13:23). The sense of
tragic homecoming is tangible in the closing minutes.
There are few better performances than Bernsteins though sad to say
I have never heard Matas nor Ormandys. This collection, anyway,
is special. I hope that if you do not know this piece and you like Sibelius,
Janaceks Sinfonietta or Szymanowski you will want to hear this symphony.
How sad that Bernstein did not record the other symphonies.
RANDALL THOMPSON wrote three dynamic symphonies but he is better known
for his choral music. This SYMPHONY NUMBER TWO (four movements) is
perfection. It is lithe, well-judged in length, poetic (especially in the
second movement), exciting and rich in antiphonal dialogue. The third movement
bubbles, capers and jumps: a feverish cauldron. There is then a substantial
central pastoral interlude with much Sibelian birdsong for cor anglais, oboe
and flute. It even swoons like Bax and perhaps Delius.
The finale opens with a feeling of decisive steadily paced resolution and
gradually accelerates the confident march into a Waltonian complex of colliding
tides and recollections of the first movement's themes. At 2:40 we get a
hint of exhilarating syncopation (which always makes me think of Waltons
Sinfonia Concertante). This slips with inevitability into a determined
Tchaikovskian finale: perky, joyous, irrepressible, cheeky. There is nothing
dense or less than pellucid about this work - a gem and in a recording and
realisation worthy of the work.
The Thompson is lighter than Harris 3 but not at all flippant or inconsequential.
The best way of thinking about it is as a midway point between Prokofievs
Classical Symphony (in its poise and balance) and the scampering and dark-toned
energy of the British composer E J Moeran. There is a good collection of
all three Thompson symphonies on Koch International but the performance of
No 2 though c../graphics/reditable, and with quite a jolt to it, does not
equal the Bernstein. Just listen to his yieldingly responsive control of
tempo towards the end of the finale from 7:10 onwards!
DAVID DIAMONDS FOURTH SYMPHONY opens in grand impressionistic,
surging romantic melos - all swirling banks of mist. This is quite Sibelian
and also surprisingly like Rubbra (Symphonies 3 and 4 and piano concerto)
sometimes. The colours are touched in with highlights from the solo piano.
The theme resolves into a spider-web gossamer march. Roy Harris puts in an
appearance once or twice. This first movement is extraordinarily
attractive. The second of the three movements kicks in with solo piano wrestling
with starkly high harsh trumpets but this relaxes into an at first reverent
and then increasingly passionate string dream which caught me thinking of
Finzis New Year Music or In Terra Pax.
The last movement is busily headlong but despite (or because of) the attractions
of the two preceding movements this does not quite meet the symphonic
challenge. This is the oldest of the four recordings.
It comes as a jolt to realise that this recording was made forty years ago.
There is a hint of hard glare in the strings and the more strident brass.
I have the Delos recording which is excellent technically but it does not
have Bernsteins heavenly responsiveness to the music. There are some
loveable Tippett-like touches and a Rubbra is not lost sight of. The off-beat
cross the bars brass chord punctuation works wonderfully with long woodwind
lines from 6:00 onwards but it does not end convincingly; it simply ends.
Nevertheless some memorable music here.
I know these recordings of the Thompson and Diamond quite well. In the early
1980s BBC Radio 3 broadcast a series of rare recordings celebrating the American
symphony. My wife taped both for me and I loved the Thompson instantly and
the Diamonds opening bars have been etched onto my memory for many
Design values are excellent. Print is legible. Recording information is
plentiful. Brief notes by Jackson Braider. Sound as refurbished from CBS
is fresh and lively with none of the dazzling audio glare I recall from the
original British CBS LPs.
The warmest recommendation for this fine set.