BARBER: Essay No. 1. Capricorn Concerto. COPLAND: Saga of the Prairies. HARRIS: Symphony No. 6, “Gettysburg”

by Walter Simmons



BARBER: Essay No. 1. Capricorn Concerto. COPLAND: Saga of the Prairies. HARRIS:Symphony No. 6, “Gettysburg”. Louise DiTullio, flute; Allan Vogel, oboe; Anthony Plog, trumpet; Keith Clark conducting the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. ALBANY TROY-064 [DDD]; 68:24. Produced by Keith Clark, Tom Null, and Chris Kuchler.

This new CD features American music composed during the period 1937-44, in performances originally issued on an Andante LP about ten years ago.

As the American orchestral repertoire of the first half of this century undergoes a welcome reappraisal, some composers must inevitably be found wanting. Roy Harris is clearly one of these, notwithstanding the extravagant — virtually delusional — assertions of program-note writer and advocate Dan Stehman.  Harris’ Sixth Symphony, described by Stehman as “a summary of what Roy Harris was as a man and a composer,” was inspired by Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In four movements, it attempts to evoke with fervent nobility a spirit of heroic affirmation — and, in truth, there are some poignant and effectively atmospheric passages toward the beginnings of the first and third movements, in particular. However, as is the case with most of Harris’ music, its expressive aspirations are thwarted by a plodding lack of rhythmic invention, and by harmonic motion so ineptly regulated as to seem without purpose or direction. Increased familiarity makes ever more clear the conclusion that Harris was a thoroughly mediocre talent whose work may safely be set aside in favor of music by other far more compelling figures.

Copland’s Saga of the Prairies has been identified variously as Music for Radio and Prairie Journal   (its   final   authorized title I believe; so why doesn’t this production use it?). The piece is a pleasant, highly episodic example of the composer’s popular “Western” mode. It is nice to have this little-known work available in a good, modern recording.

Barber’s Capricorn Concerto is probably his least characteristic work, virtually a wholesale adaptation of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella style, minus the Pergolesi melodies. Here is a fine performance of this inoffensive piece. The familiar and always lovely Essay No. 1, however, can be found in far more polished readings.