Harris: Symphonies Nos 5&6

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COMPOSERS: Harris
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 5 & 6 (Gettysburg); Acceleration
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559609

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Roy Harris’s one-movement Third Symphony is recognised as a classic of American music: but what about his other 14? Nos 5 and 6 deploy the same methods of continuous organic development culminating in a fugue, and the same bold orchestral colours with prominent brass, but in three- and four-movement structures, and to wartime purposes.

The Fifth of 1942/43 originally bore a dedication to ‘our great ally’ the USSR (though this had disappeared by the time the score was printed in 1961), while the Sixth of 1944 was inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, with movements entitled ‘Awakening’, ‘Conflict’, ‘Dedication’ and ‘Affirmation’.

Neither quite matches the impact of the Third, but both are serious, impressive pieces which certainly deserve a hearing – as does the 1941 Acceleration, a seven-and-a-half-minute encapsulation of Harris’s methods.

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Having begun her Harris cycle with the Third and Fourth at the helm of the Colorado Symphony, Marin Alsop continues it with another of her former orchestras, the Bournemouth Symphony. It’s possible to imagine orchestral playing, and recorded sound, of greater richness and impact. But these are strong, accounts, and admirers of the Third who want to explore Harris further won’t be disappointed. Anthony Burton