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  • The Great American Ninth - Roy Harris: Symphony No. 9 / Symphony No. 8
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The Great American Ninth - Roy Harris: Symphony No. 9 / Symphony No. 8

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Audio CD, July 27, 1999
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Editorial Reviews

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The symphonies of American composer Roy Harris (1898-1980) are really essays in the symphonic form rather than the traditionally structured vehicles we're so used to. This allows Harris's ideas to appear more as declarative statements (usually in the brasses), ideas that are subsequently buoyed (or molded) by strings underneath. Motion and mood govern Harris's works--as well as playfulness. The last three movements of Symphony 8 (1962) employ several delightful piano obbligato passages that reveal how much joy there is in his work. Perhaps the real surprise on this disc is Memories of a Child's Sunday, a three-movement work evoking the world of a child at play on a Midwestern Sunday afternoon. The Albany Symphony and conductor Alan Miller have grand feel for Harris's magic. Let's hope more Harris will follow soon. --Paul Cook

1. Memories of a Child's Sunday: Bells
2. Memories of a Child's Sunday: Imagining Things
3. Memories of a Child's Sunday: Play
4. Symphony No. 9: Movement 1: 'We, the people'
5. Symphony No. 9: Movement 2: '...to form a more perfect Union'
6. Symphony No. 9: Movement 3: '...to promote the general welfare' - Part 1; 'Of Life immense in passion, pulse, power
7. Symphony No. 8: Part 1: 'Childhood and youth'
8. Symphony No. 8: Part 2: 'Renunciation'
9. Symphony No. 8: Part 3: 'The Building of the Chapel'
10. Symphony No. 8: Part 4: 'The Joy of Pantheistic Beauty as a Gift of God'
11. Symphony No. 8: Part 5: 'Ecstasy After the Premonition of Death'

Product Details

  • Performer: Alan Feinberg
  • Orchestra: Albany Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: David Alan Miller
  • Composer: Roy Harris
  • Audio CD (July 27, 1999)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Albany Records
  • ASIN: B00000JLCJ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #335,354 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 19, 2000
I've been waiting a long time to hear a Harris symp. after the beloved #7, so I am hard put to say anything else, except thank you. Movements fire off immediately with next page, so stand back and don't get into the way of the momentum. Most raves are about the brasses in Harris works, but just listen to those string parts! One flaw in this CD package is that it is a bit much hearing both symps. back to back (in reversed order!) with nothing to separate them. I concentrated on #8 first, then #9. The Harris amplified piano is a much-loved element now and allows a wonderful final this-is-it sustained chord and terminal note at the end of #8. Hurrah for Albany Symphony and let's have some more great stuff from this wonderful composer.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Carol A Hoffman on October 13, 1999
Roy Harris' leisurely-paced, "rambling Western" style is highlighted by three glorious pieces. "Memories of a Child's Sunday" is his most simply-structured orchestral work--and one of his most light-hearted also. Here we are also lucky to have world premiere recordings of two of his later symphonies: Symphony No. 8 ("San Francisco") and Symphony No. 9, each written in the early 1960s. Harris the man may have aged, but Harris the composer definitely has not. Besides his Third Symphony (which may be the finest symphony in the American genre) and his Seventh Symphony, the Eighth and Ninth offer some of Harris' richest orchestral textures. Exquisitely played; wonderful amplified piano sound in the "San Francisco." Fans of Harris' music must purchase this immediately.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Richard Zencker on October 11, 2006
Poor Roy Harris -- we always hear how Shostakovich is a great Russian composer who was opposed by the Comunist leadership, but in fact he got a lot more promotion from his government than Harris got from his. Harris had solid "American" credentials -- born on Lincoln's Birthday in a log cabin, etc. -- but was mercilessly persecuted during the McCarthy era for his wartime dedication of his Fifth Symphony to the Red Army (our ally at the time) and it seems he never overcame it. To top that off, the musical establishment either ridiculed him as too "old fashioned" (translation: tonal music during the 50s) or held his success during the 30s against him. Here, then, is a composer whose style and history parallels that of Shostokovich without garnering the respect the latter holds today. Perhaps his music is not of the same quality, but I personally believe that not to be the case. These performances are of surprisingly high quality and the same goes for the recording. I urge anyone who considers themself a fan of American music to sample this. One cannot claim to be knowledgeable about American symphonic music and not know these works. At the same time, it is a shame that there apparently is not a complete recorded traversal of Harris symphonies.

In case it wasn't clear, this is highly recommended. Harris's Third Symphony is still available in several classic recordings; if you are familiar with that and like it, you will like this as well. These same forces have recently tackled the Second Symphony (in a spectacular recording) and there are current recordings of the 4th (not in the same league, in my opinion), 5th, 6th, and 7th (perhaps the finest of the symphonies yet recorded). Harris continued composing symphonies up until the American Bicentennial, but his "liberal" philosophy probably contributed to the damning reviews the later works received. I hope to hear them all someday.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Swedish classical music lover on June 15, 2005
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I was a bit let down by the ninth symphony, considering the vamp it is given on the cover, being the GREAT American ninth. It did not amount to great. It wasn't exactly bad either, just... average. Harris most certainly wrote better symphonies. The third, fifth, and seventh are indeed hallmarks of his symphonic career (you'd think with the odd symphony numbering the ninth would join the ranks also). The ninth could be The Mediocre American Symphony. It is themed after the Gettysburg address, so it gets the American qualification. However, it's not in the familiar Copland or Grofe American style, but it doesn't have to be to be American. It is Harris, but it's doodling Harris, Harris not going anywhere in particular, not finding a great climax or any great theme. It doesn't have to be climatic or have a great theme to be great, but the ninth doesn't qualify as "great".

The eight is a bit more appealing, being broken up into more shorter sections. Here Harris clearly gets his ideas across in each movement. The gem, I feel, on this CD is the Child's Sunday. These three works are captivating, somewhat in the way Hovhaness' music is, but still retaining Harris' trademark style.

But as for the "Great American Ninth," I'm not sure America has one. Most composers never got to nine. David Diamond wrote one, which I haven't heard. So did Hovhaness, which I have also not heard. Naxos recently produced the first recording of William Schuman's ninth. Nice, but also not the "great" symphony. Perhaps in America we should stick with our thirds instead of our ninths: Schuman's, Harris', Copland's, Hanson's, Ives', Piston's... works all deserving of the "great" title.
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