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Bob Neill
Positive Feedback Online, March 2010

Symphony No. 7 (1952; revised 1955) has a new stormy, stentorian quality to it, even when it’s being melodic. No moody reflection or melancholy here. This is passionate, stirring stuff. The work is not without periods of relief but they are mainly oases. This is more urban in feel than Harris’s earlier music, full of motion, energy, and eclat, with hints of other ‘foreign’ things—even of Hindemith’s Mathis de Maler! I expect Symphony No. 7 shocked the composer’s usual fans.

Symphony No. 9 (1962) starts up as a rollicking, high-spirited affair. We can feel the good nature, optimism, ‘positive thinking,’ and well-being of the 1950’s, which 1962 culturally speaking still was. I expect this is great fun to conduct: every orchestral voice gets a chance to strut its stuff and all do. Harris uses the U.S. Constitution as his thematic structure and the first movement is called “We the People,” in whom Harris expressly places high hopes. “To Form a More Perfect Union” is equally affirmative but in Harris’s quieter, lyric, pastoral voice, the equivalent of the traditional second movement Adagio. It is twice the length of “We the People,” nearly twelve minutes, and it feels a good deal longer than that. The final movement, “To Promote the General Welfare,” is broken into three sections, the first, as it is designated, is “Of life immense, in passion, pulse, and power;” the second, “Cheerful for Freest Action Forward,” friskier and melodic; the final, “The Modern Man I Sing,” triumphant and uplifting, with brass a-blare and tympani a-boom.




Penguin Guide, January 2009

Kuchar and the Ukraine orchestra offer powerfully idiomatic accounts of these two symphonies, and they are recorded vividly, though the upper strings are lacking real body and weight. The writing, open and strong, with antiphonal effects between massed strings and brass is recognizably from the same pen as the Third, well worth investigating. No. 7, like that celebrated work, is in a single 20-minute movement of contrasted sections, and builds up from a slowly monumental opening to a massive climax with powerful strings and brass, and relaxes at the end with tinkling percussion effects that are anything but monumental.

Commissioned for Philadelphia, No. 9 takes its inspiration from the American Constitution and is in three substantial movements, each with a quotation from the Constitution as a superscription. Surprisingly, the opening, ‘We, the people’, brings a jolly waltz motif with whooping brass, and it is only in the second and third movements, much more extended, that the composer takes on a solemn mood, with the pavane-like second movement leading to a strong finale with martial overtones. The Epilogue in memory of President Kennedy is elegiac, dignified without quite becoming a funeral march, gritty at times, leading to a meditative close.



Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, September 2002

Roy Harris is a visionary composer-poet who rejected the thin-lipped self-serving avant-garde having found his own melody-founded language early on.

From the very first bar of the Seventh Symphony you can tell that Kuchar and the Ukrainian orchestra have got this music to a tee. They have served a long apprenticeship in the American Classics series. Their recordings of the first three Creston symphonies and the Piston violin concertos are pillars of the catalogue for adventurous enthusiasts and collectors.

The recording here is ‘in your face’: belligerent and radiant with the woodwind and brass fulsomely assertive. The only niggle is that insufficient emphasis is given to the vibraphone in the Seventh that should ring out in sonorous lambency at the climax as it does in the old Ormandy CBS recording now on Albany. By contrast side drum, xylophone and other percussion are captured with Phase 4 immediacy.

The essence of Harris lies within the margins of radiance, a weighty drawl, a wondrous awe in great things and the fearful spirituality of trackless open spaces: an analogue to Whitman’s ‘Unknown region’. Kuchar captures the slow drawl and steadily uprooting strength of the single-movement Seventh melding it with glory in spacious undomesticated expanses.

In this Seventh there are so many highlights. One would be at 11.16 the dance of tubular bells and oboes. At 11.46 sample the real bark on the french horns. The key is the creation of majestic momentum; this Kuchar does with forward moving life-giving force. There are no looks over the shoulder—all bridges are burnt and we know the answer to Whitman’s question: ‘Darest thou now O soul…?’ The Seventh ends in a snappily jazzy and uproariously confident insolence. I have repeatedly returned to this performance of the work for pleasure. It is a superb piece of work and you must hear this.

While the selling point here is, without doubt, the Seventh Symphony…there are two other substantial works on this disc. The Epilogue to Profiles in Courage—JFK is a tribute to John F Kennedy, assassinated in 1963. The work burns with slow-talking resentful passion, sorrow, anger and valour…Pre-dating the Epilogue by a year the Ninth Symphony is only a shade less magnetic that the Seventh. It is a Philadelphia commission and dates from around the time that Ormandy recorded the Seventh. The three movements carry superscriptions from the Preamble to the US Constitution and from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. The last movement is further subdivided into three sections with each carrying its own motto: 1. Of life immense in passion, pulse and power, 2. Cheerful for freest action formed, 3. The Modern Man I Sing…Richard Whitehouse covers the essential ground in his notes…Utterly indispensable for the Seventh; fascinating for the other works. Harris’s hymns and paeans to brave endeavour, vitality, the sunrise and the rolling horizons lack nothing of their original vigour and muscular glory.



Neil Horner
MusicWeb International, August 2002

This disc is yet another winner in the Naxos American Classics series. Many of the greatest successes of this imprint (the Piston Violin Concertos recording springs immediately to mind) have emanated from this source and this one is as accomplished as we have come to expect. It is especially valuable in that it brings us music of an important figure who is underrepresented in the record catalogues, especially on the European side of the Atlantic. Portrayed as something of a one hit wonder (his Third Symphony of 1938 is admittedly a masterpiece and one of (if not the) greatest of all American essays in the form), nothing could be further from the truth in Harris’s case. He wrote thirteen symphonies, including the choral Folksong Symphony and the programmatic Gettysburg, and the two Kuchar has selected to record here are indeed well chosen. The Seventh Symphony was completed in 1952 but revised three years later. In it Harris revisits the single movement form that served him so well in the aforementioned Third Symphony, with a similar playing time too (just under twenty minutes). The music also has a similar feel of organic growth, the much-remarked evocation of the wide-open spaces of the American wilderness, and liberal use of brass and timpani. It is typical Harris in that one remembers more the overall atmosphere and poetry it carries with it than its particular melodies; that said it is music that is far more immediate and understandable than most of the large-scale orchestral works of say William Schuman (a pupil of Harris), Carl Ruggles or Ives (in experimental rather than traditional mode). It is probably worth noting at this juncture that Harris, although he studied in Paris with Boulanger, as did many of his contemporaries, his mature music (unlike, say, that of Copland or Virgil Thomson) was largely untouched by either jazz or neo-classicism. I suppose that the obvious predictable model for the Seventh Symphony is the equivalent work of Sibelius and there are numerous qualities about Harris’s compositions that do suggest an affiliation with the Finnish genius. The strong feel for nature, the general serious/lofty tone (another aspect that makes it stand apart from much contemporaneous Americana), the pared down, often spare orchestration and the condensation (distillation?) of ideas.

The Ninth Symphony is less typical in some ways. It is rather more extended than many of his mature works, running to half an hour, in three movements with the final one further subdivided. Each movement and section are headed by words taken from Walt Whitman, a figure who looms large in the works of many early twentieth century composers (including Holst, Delius and Vaughan Williams as well as many of their American contemporaries). The first, “We the people”, uses percussion to full effect and is more rhythmic in nature than Harris tends usually to be. The second, “…to form a more perfect Union”, however, is quintessential Harris, with an elegiac, almost valedictory feel to it. Whereas the strings and woodwind dominate the second movement, in the third, “…to promote the general welfare”, brass and percussion reassert themselves and the overall mood is one of optimism. The symphony ends on a high and once again reaffirms Roy Harris’s place at the very pinnacle of the twentieth century American symphonic tradition.

The short JFK tribute piece is also archetypal Harris, a serious but not over-solemn tribute highlighting the strings and, towards the end of the piece, tubular bells (anyone looking for the same sort of aural balm dispensed by Pärt and Gorecki might be somewhat disappointed though!)…It is a fine CD anyway but, under these circumstances, it must be regarded as an essential purchase for anyone remotely interested in the twentieth century symphony.






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7:46:09 PM, 16 April 2014
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