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Roy Harris: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4
Symphony No. 3 • Symphony No. 4, "Folksong Symphony"
Colorado Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Marin Alsop, conductor

Naxos 8.559227

Roy Harris composed 18 or more symphonies in his eighty years (1898-1979) and this is the first of a projected release of all thirteen orchestral symphonies.

No 3 (in one movement) used to be popular and I was glad to hear it again. It is a sober piece, strong structurally and somewhat austere, its orchestration reminding me of Sibelius and, more, Rubbra.

The choral Folksong Symphony first given in December 1940 is a genial, homely piece, which wouldn't stretch listeners or non-professional players unduly, composed to bring about "cultural understanding amongst high school, college and community choruses". Its upbeat finale "hoped to capture the spirit of exhilaration and joy which our people would feel when the men came home from war"!

Naxos provides full texts on their website, thus keeping to their "affordable price"; would that they'd do that more often, e.g. for the libretti of their Historical Opera series; the marvellous word-driven Karajan/Schwarzkopf/Seefried Ariadne auf Naxos absolutely needs a text to follow whilst listening, lacking which I really cannot recommend it (c.f. bilingual texts of the Swedish Hallstrom's Duke Magnus and the Mermaid).

Worth keeping an eye on this series; I guess that some of the later Harris symphonies will prove more rewarding. Meanwhile, the affable Folksong Symphony would be worth considering for youth orchestras and school/college choirs.

(picture: Wm MacIlvaine 1862)

© Peter Grahame Woolf