Leonard Bernstein / New York Philharmonic

Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3; William Schuman: Symphony No. 3

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Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3; William Schuman: Symphony No. 3 Review

by Blair Sanderson

Leonard Bernstein's wayward interpretations of European symphonic literature often left him open to criticism, but he seems to have exercised more caution and care in conducting the works of his American contemporaries. The matter-of-fact symphonies of Roy Harris and William Schuman are not conducive to flamboyant displays, and Bernstein stays within bounds, prudently following the composers' wishes. Harris' Symphony No. 3 is a bit rough at the edges, though this is apparently in accord with his intentions and is not necessarily due to the New York Philharmonic's raw sound. The symphony's asymmetrical phrases and brusque motives sketch out a heroic but ultimately tragic narrative, highly suggestive of rural life in the Great Depression. The bold drama of this symphony is unmistakably American, though Harris' use of color shows what he learned from Nadia Boulanger. Schuman's Symphony No. 3 is equally dramatic, though the abstract forms of passacaglia, fugue, chorale, and toccata suggest that the composer had no program in mind. Yet the music is exuberant and big-hearted, similar in many ways to Harris' style, though striving for a higher level of sophistication. Recorded live at a concert in 1985 at Avery Fisher Hall, Deutsche Grammophon's sound is as good as this venue's problematic acoustic allows.

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