Harris: Symphonies No. 7; Symphony No. 9; Epilogue to Profiles in Courage – JFK

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COMPOSERS: Harris
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphonies No. 7; Symphony No. 9; Epilogue to Profiles in Courage – JFK
PERFORMER: National SO of Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559050
Once hailed as America’s greatest symphonist on the strength of his Third (1939), Roy Harris actually wrote 15 others (if you count the unnumbered ones) and several of those are nearly as good, perhaps even better. The one-movement Seventh (1952), recorded in 1955 by Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (and worth reissue, Sony), is a powerful and compact piece, like a big passacaglia in form. The three-movement No. 9 (1962), with subtitles from Whitman is more prolix, especially in the contrapuntal structures that make up the tripartite finale, a kind of triple fugue: but it, too, packs plenty of punch. There is a recent rival version by the Albany Symphony Orchestra under David Alan Miller (Albany). Kuchar’s view of the score is broader than Miller’s, not to its detriment, though there is a certain raw-boned quality to both performance and recording. The Epilogue to Profiles in Courage, Harris’s musical tribute to the murdered President Kennedy, is cut from the same sombre cloth as his symphonic slow movements. (The title evokes Kennedy’s once-famous Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller on various American patriots.) Certainly all three works deserve their inclusion in Naxos’s American Classics series: I hope Naxos will give us more Harris symphonies in due course – No. 5 badly needs a new recording and No. 11, never recorded, is reputed to be among the best of his later works. Calum MacDonald

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