Naxos's American composer series was strongly underway when they released this album in 2002, and the disc continued one of the most-comprehensive surveys of American classical music any single record label has ever attempted. The fact that Naxos initially chose a Ukrainian orchestra to play many of the pieces in the series may strike one as a bit odd considering Naxos's contracts with American ensembles, but the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine play beautifully, and I'm sure no one has ever minded their origins.
American composer Roy Harris (1898-1979) wrote thirteen symphonies between 1933 and 1976, along with almost every other kind of music. His Seventh Symphony derives from 1951-52 (revised in 1955) and the Ninth from 1962. In addition (probably because the two symphonies are relatively short), Naxos have also included Harris's Epilogue to Profiles in Courage--J.F.K.
Of the three works represented on the disc, none of which I had heard before, I found the Seventh Symphony the most rewarding. It is a single-movement piece lasting about nineteen minutes, developing a solitary theme from a moody, evocative opening to a rousing, energetic climax. If Harris hadn't labeled it a "symphony," I'd have considered it more of a tone poem or possibly a set of variations, but Harris insisted on calling it a symphony so who's to argue. Anyway, Maestro Theodore Kuchar and the Ukraine National Symphony do a good job opening up the music and letting it flow freely and atmospherically.
The brief Epilogue to Profiles in Courage--J.F.K., written in 1963 in commemoration of President Kennedy's assassination and used here as a companion piece, sounds appropriately solemn but not particularly memorable. Kuchar and his ensemble do their best with it, and the orchestra really does sound good; however, they couldn't do quite enough to make me fall in love with the score.
What is most remarkable about the disc is Naxos's exemplary audio throughout the three works. The engineers miked the orchestra at a moderate enough distance that they ensured a natural-sounding response. The stereo spread appears wide, the stage depth reproduced realistically, and the dynamic range, while not overwhelming, impressive. The deep end does not go through the floor, but it, too, makes its presence felt in the bass drum, especially in the Seventh Symphony. This is not spectacular sound, but it does its job unobtrusively and commendably well.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: