American composer and bassoonist Truman Harris (b. 1945) should not be confused with American composer Roy Harris (1898-1979). Truman Harris is the contemporary one; Roy Harris was the perhaps more well-known, older one. So, we've got to give Truman a little more time and a few more listens.
According to his bio, "Mr. Harris joined the bassoon section of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC in 1973, as the orchestra's contrabassoonist. After two years, he moved to second bassoon, and later was promoted to Assistant Principal, where he remained until his retirement in 2017. He was also Principal Bassoonist of Eclipse Chamber Orchestra from its founding in 1992 until 2017, and bassoonist of the Capitol Woodwind Quintet from 1977 until the group ceased performing in 2012. Truman Harris' performance career also included stints with the Fort Worth Symphony and Opera, the United States Air Force Band, National Musical Arts in residence at the National Academy of Sciences, and The Twenty First Century Consort."
Mr. Harris, with whose music I was not acquainted before this album, appears to be a sort of American Percy Grainger, the early twentieth-century composer and collector of mostly lighthearted, impressionistic British folk music. Like Grainger's most-famous work, "Country Gardens," much of Mr. Harris's music is also lighthearted and pictorial. Add a little Leroy Anderson and you get the idea. On the present album, which appears to be his first, the folks at Naxos give us six of Harris's compositions, presumably illustrative of his main body of work, performed by his old ensemble, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra led by Sylvia Alimena.
First up is the Rosemoor Suite for flute oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (2015). It's made up of five short movements, each of which describes a scene from the composer's life: "Fantasia," "On the Trampoline," "By the Stream, Late September," "Charleston," and "Silent Movie." These movements last from about a minute and a half to a little over three minutes each, which is really too brief to enjoy them much. But they are all highly descriptive in content and carefree in tone. "By the Stream" is especially winsome, evoking a kind of English pastoral scene.
Next is the Aulos Triptych for four flutes and piano (2015). It's in three movements, again depicting various musical settings: "Light and Color," "Dreams of Fantastic Places," and "A Warm Day in Winter," all self-explanatory. Again, the music is sweet and charming, and again quite short.
Then, there's Flowers (2006), six very concise movements describing six very different flowers: "Pansy," "Clover," "Tulip," ""Lavender," "Kudzu," and "Black-eyed Susan." Here, we're back to some of the buoyant high spirits of the album's opening pieces. "Tulips" introduces a note of sadness because they bloom and fade so quickly and "Kudzu" a sense of the dramatic.
After Flowers, we get the Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano (2008), not the shortest work on the agenda but written for the smallest number of players. It appears to be a sort of cross between modern classical and a sometimes bluesy modern jazz, the two bassoonists working well as a team with piano support.
The program concludes with the Concertina for Flute and Chamber Orchestra (2003), which contains elements of lyricism, nostalgia, jazz, and march in a mostly playful display. It has the distinctions of incorporating the best of Harris's playful, upbeat style with maybe the best sound on the disc.
Producers James Ross, Laurel Bennert Ohlson, Elizabeth Schulze, and Steven Honigberg and engineers Antonio D'Urzo and Paul Blakemore recorded the music at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia and the Dekelboum Concert hall, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland in 2007, 2009, and 2016.
As one might expect from the several recording dates and venues, the sound varies a bit from selection to selection. Nevertheless, it is mostly good, the little chamber pieces sounding fresh and alive. Overall, I didn't notice any particular instances of brightness in the treble or boominess in the bass, just some minor veiling in occasional areas. The sound is, in fact, reasonably smooth for the most part and pleasantly warm, just as real music might sound.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: