Truman Harris: A Warm Day in Winter (CD review)

Rosemoor Suite; Aulos Triptych; Concertino for Horn and Chamber Orchestra; Flowers; Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano; and Concertina for Flute and Chamber Orchestra. Alice K. Weinreb, flute; Laurel B. Ohlson, horn; Sylvia Alimena, Eclipse Chamber Orchestra. Naxos 8.559858.

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.

Sylvia Alimena
Following that is the Concertino for Horn and Chamber Orchestra (2001), one of the more conventional pieces on the album in three traditional movements: Allegro, Andante, and Rondo: Allegetto giocoso. At over sixteen minutes, it's the longest work on the program and, for me, one of the most substantial musically. Although the horn was recorded rather close up, which tends to overwhelm the rest of the ensemble slightly, there is a delightful interplay between the instruments throughout the music.

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:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 Jon 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa