These are world premiere recordings and they fill a major gap.
Harris is one of the United States' greatest symphonists. His third symphony
is celebrated everywhere however his seventh is the most immediately striking
and deserves to be even more popular than the third.
Memories of a Child's Sunday is not at all the faux-naif piece you
might have guessed from the title. The first movement is bell-haunted with
horns intoning an awed prayer over a magical accompaniment luminously scored.
The light is gentle not dazzling. In the second movement benevolent ghosts
are portrayed and there is an ecclesiastical theme straight out of Russian
Easter Festival. Playful 'wooziness' dominates with the occasional brass
bark. The music seems to lean towards Scotland and Arnold's boozy Scottish
Dances. Bugle calls echo and there are all the usual Harris hallmarks.
Altogether a rather special suite although it seems to end without a feeling
The Ninth Symphony: I: undulating brass fanfares are absorbed and developed
by the woodwind and the movement develops a raucous exuberance. II: The solo
viola song evokes a picture of wandering pilgrimage. The calling flutes are
taken up by the strings (4.20) and the French Horns rear up graciously (6.23)
as if to assert Harris the prairie singer alight with the spirit of Walt
Whitman. The trumpet takes the role of orator at the end of the movement
which ends with a held vibraphone note. The finale is all string and brass
figures projected buoyantly. The eager eagles wheel and turn ranging across
a vast landscape. A superb repeated phase echo fanfare on the brass is vintage
Harris at 2.40. The symphony concludes in Hansonian defiant shouts, humming
and hovering tension and heroic bell-calls high up and noble.
The 8th Symphony is in five segments each separately tracked.
Childhood and Youth is again bell-haunted but in addition there is
a rustic 'pipe and tabor' dance and much Tippett-like bounce. The dark reaches
of the next movement give place to high speed birdsong in its successor.
The pianist's glinting tinkling rainfall skitters and intertwines with the
flutes, woodwind and urgent strings. The finale flows in molten melodious
The ten pages of fully detailed notes are by Roy Harris expert, Dan Stehman.
I recall writing to the Roy Harris Archive back in 1979. I received a long,
friendly and informative letter from Dan. The situation was very different
then. I had asked him about recordings. At that time the third symphony was
intermittently available. The fifth could be tracked down on Louisville (later
reissued on RCA Gold Seal in the UK). As for the rest it was largely silence.
In the years since then quite a few works have made it to disc. The third
has been recorded several times. The gloriously tolling seventh has been
reissued (on Albany, of course!) and the sixth has appeared on Albany 064.
A winner of a disc if ever there was one! Highly recommended.
PS: Whatever happened to the New Zealand SO/Hugh Keelan recording of Harris
No. 7? Koch International even announced a catalogue number: 3 7290 2 but
I have seen no sign of the disc as yet