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Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4 'Folk Song Symphony'
Roy Harris, Marin Alsop, Colorado Symphony Orchestra
Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4 'Folk Song Symphony'
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #1

Harris's Folk Song Symphony, his fourth, is an odd work, hardly a symphony in our usual use of the word. It was first performed in 1940 and is more of a cantata--it's a set of choral and orchestral arrangements of familiar...  more »


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All Artists: Roy Harris, Marin Alsop, Colorado Symphony Orchestra
Title: Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4 'Folk Song Symphony'
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Naxos American
Original Release Date: 1/1/2006
Re-Release Date: 7/25/2006
Genre: Classical
Styles: Historical Periods, Modern, 20th, & 21st Century, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 636943922729

Harris's Folk Song Symphony, his fourth, is an odd work, hardly a symphony in our usual use of the word. It was first performed in 1940 and is more of a cantata--it's a set of choral and orchestral arrangements of familiar songs, including "The Streets of Laredo," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," "He's Gone Away," and a Negro spiritual or two. There's nothing particularly deep about it, but it's good entertainment. And Marin Alsop leads the Colorado forces with energy and what seems like true excitement. The briefer Third Symphony is a meatier work: it builds with suspense for its first half (it lasts about 18 minutes), has a fine fugue which features some exciting brass playing, and is concise and dramatic. Alsop gets intense playing from the orchestra. A very interesting piece, well played. --Robert Levine

CD Reviews

Harris Third: Five Stars; Harris Fourth: Four Stars
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 07/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"When Serge Koussevitzky premiered the Third Symphony of Roy Harris (1898-1979) with the Boston Symphony in 1939 he commented that this was the 'first great American symphony.' That's stretching it a bit -- I'm sure you can come up with other earlier candidates -- but he was right about it being great. In fact, I would say it is one of the very greatest American symphonies of any era before or since and indeed one of the entire music world's great symphonies of the twentieth century. It has had a number of fine recordings -- the best, musically, is Koussevitzky's own but its 1939 sound is pretty dim, and the Toscanini of a couple of years later is not much better -- including two by Leonard Bernstein. As far as I know the only reasonably recent recording is a fine one by Neeme Järvi and the Detroit Symphony (coupled with another great American symphony, Schuman's Third). But this performance by the Colorado Symphony led by Marin Alsop stands shoulder to shoulder in that crowd and has many wonderful things to recommend it. Alsop and her band manage the slow and inexorable accelerando in the first half of the symphony (created by Harris largely by diminution of note values) with pent-up excitement. The strings make a lovely scrim with their polytonal arpeggios in contrary motion a little further on and the orchestra's way with the fugal section with its brass interjections is nothing short of sensational. This is a great Harris Third, make no mistake. Recorded sound is excellent, too.

Unfortunately, the five-section single-movement Third lasts only about eighteen minutes. The rest of this disc is taken up with the Fourth, a forty-minute cantata-like collection of choral settings of American folksongs with some instrumental intermezzi. It includes such familiar songs as 'The Girl I Left Behind Me', 'The Streets of Laredo' (treated in canon!), and 'Johnny Comes Marching Home.' I can easily imagine it being a crowd-pleaser at a pops concert but I can't take it too seriously either as a 'symphony' or as a piece of concert music. Add to that the somewhat less than ideal contribution of the Colorado Symphony Chorus (although their diction in these familiar songs is exemplary, making the lack of texts in the enclosed booklet a minor problem), and it becomes a matter of individual taste as to whether you'd want this disc. This is the only recording of the Fourth as far as I know and Naxos announces that this disc is the beginning of a project to record all thirteen of Harris's 'orchestral symphonies' (several of the others were for other instrumental forces). There was a time when Harris figured frequently on American orchestral concert programs, but not in the past thirty or more years, so this is a welcome development.

Recommended heartily for the Third, somewhat less so for the Fourth.

Scott Morrison"
Roy Harris And The Music Of The American Soil
Erik North | San Gabriel, CA USA | 08/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Along with Aaron Copland, William Schuman, and Samuel Barber, Roy Harris helped define the American sound in classical music during the years of the Great Depression and World War II. And while he may not have been quite able to achieve the heights of popularity the other three gentlemen attained, Harris' appreciation for the music of the American soil is evident throughout his works, as can be gauged by this fine Naxos recording by conductor Marin Alsop and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Harris' Symphony No. 3, although it is a work lasting just seventeen to eighteen minutes in length, is nevertheless considered a member of a "Holy Trinity" of American symphonies that includes the similarly numbered ones of Copland and Schuman, and for good reason. It is a work that looks back to the past, and forward to the American future, in its use of folk music influences--the kind of which would become part-and-parcel of the American sound. His Symphony No. 4, known as the "Folk Song Symphony" is a multi-movement piece for chorus and orchestra that takes its cue from various American folk tunes, including the famous "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" (a tune that also features very prominently in the composer's own "American Creed" and Morton Gould's "American Salute"). Both works are given a first-rate performance by Alsop and the Colorado Symphony, as well as the Colorado Symphony Chorus; and they in turn are given proper sound balance by the engineers of Naxos, which may be a "budget" label, but it's one that sounds like it has spared no expense. This recording is part of the label's continuing American Classics series, and it is hoped that this recordings high standards continue on future recordings in the series."
A Quintesenntial American Symphony
Robin Friedman | Washington, D.C. United States | 03/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Roy Harris (1898 -- 1979)was a largely self-taught American composer who was born in Oklahoma. He is best remembered for his third symphony, first performed in 1939 to great critical and popular acclaim. Serge Koussevitsky, who gave the premier of the work, called it "the first great symphony by an American composer". (At the time the symphonies of Charles Ives were not well-known.) Together with the third symphonies of William Schuman, a student of Harris', and Aaron Copland, a great admirer of Harris' music, this symphony form part of the great American trilogy of third symphonies. In his useful study, "The American Symphony" (1998), Neil Butterworth describes Harris' third as "the archetypal American symphony -- rugged, abrasive, with the true pioneering spirit, a work of recognized originality and integrity." (p. 87)

The third has been recorded many times. This recording in the Naxos "American Classics" series by the up-and-coming Marin Alsop and the Colorado Symphony is an excellent introduction to the work for new listeners and a fine performance for those already familiar with it. The symphony is in a single, integrated movement of less than 18 minutes. It consists of a web of five sections, marked Tragic, Lyric, Pastoral, Fugue-Dramatic, and Dramatic-Tragic, which flow seamlessly into each other. The symphony is immediately accessible and yet remains fresh over many hearings.

Harris' third owes a great deal to plainchant, renaissance music, and American folk song. In moves in long, slow blocked sections in simple basic harmonies. Harris uses the basic sections of the orchestra -- strings, brass, winds, and percussion in choirs as each group carries the music forward for a time only to be replaced by another group. The pace of the symphony picks up as it moves forward. The work opens with a long melancholy theme in the cello, followed by the "lyrical" section in which the brass and the winds toss a slow theme back and forth. The middle section of the work, the pastorale, features interludes between winds and strings leading to the climactic sections of the work -- a strongly contrapuntal section followed by a slow, serious march punctuated by cymbals and the incessant beating of the tympani. The work as a whole is stunning with an underlying theme of pregnant expectation.

In comparison with the Third, much of the rest of Harris' work seems anticlimactic. But his symphony no. 4, the "Folk Song Symphony" also included on this CD, is worth hearing. The fourth belongs to a type of music with a ceremonial, political theme. Many of the great masters, including Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms wrote this type of music on occasion, and it appears frequently in American music. A recent famous and notable example of an American ceremonial piece is Peter Boyer's "Ellis Island: A Dream of America" which is also available in Naxos's "American Classics" series.

Harris composed his fourth symphony in 1940. It has a distincly patriotic theme, probably in view of what many then saw as the inevitable entry of the United States into WW II. The work is in seven short movements, five of which are for chorus and two for orchestra alone. It opens and closes with songs of the Civil War and includes as well western , mountain, and African-American songs. The melodies are all familiar, but Harris uses his material creatively with vocal part-writing, sharp orchestral accompaniment, and instrumental interludes. Harris wrote of this symphony:

"The work opens with the song 'The Girl I left Behind Me' and ends with 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again", both famous Civil War Tunes. To express the nostaliga of loneliness, I chose two of America's best loved lonesome songs, 'Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie' and 'He's Gone Away.' For the Negros -- who so admirably represent our nation both in war and music -- I chose that wonderful spirtual 'De Trumpet Sounds It In my Soul'. I wrote the choral parts for the range of good high school choruses, with the thought that such choruses might have a work to prepare with the symphony orchestras of our cities." (Quoted in Butterworth, at 87)

The Colorado Symphony Chorus performs the lengthy vocal sections with feeling and sympathy. They are a worthy partner to Alsop and the symphony. While not of the same merit as the third symphony, Harris' fourth is an excellent work of its type. It is fun to hear, and I can visualize it being performed on hot summer nights in Fourth of July celebrations -- of the sort that remain an important part of the American landscape.

Robin Friedman"