Harris: Symphonies Nos. 7 and 9 (CD review)

Also, Epilogue to Profiles in Courage--J.F.K. Theodore Kuchar, National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Naxos 8.559050.

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.

Theodore Kuchar
The Ninth Symphony is more conventional in its movements (although there are still only three of them instead of the traditional four) and more conventional in its purely American material, in this case the "Preamble" to the Constitution and quotes from poet Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. My problem with the Ninth is that I felt there was a degree of sameness in it and a degree of similarity to works by other American composers like Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson. By its final segment I thought the Ninth hadn't really gone very far, meandering a bit too leisurely for my taste. Still, Kuchar holds things together as best as possible, and his orchestra is good enough to make it sound all of a piece.

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:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa