HARRIS:  Symphony No. 2.  GOULD:  Symphony No. 3
Albany Symphony Orch; David Alan Miller, cond.
ALBANY TROY SACD 515 (F) (DDD) TT:  62:07
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GROFÉ:  Hollywood Suite.  Hudson River Suite.  Death Valley Suite.
Bournemouth Symphony Orch; William Stromberg, cond.
NAXOS 8.559017 (B) (DDD) TT:  56:14
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Both of these disks fill major voids in the CD catalog. Of all repertory here, only Death Valley Suite is listed in the last Schwann/Opus. GrofÈ's Grand Canyon Suite composed in 1931 was a hit with audiences right from the start; his other three works presented here were well-received at their premieres (Hollywood Suite [1935], Death Valley Suite [1949], and Hudson River Suite [1955]), but none of them, in spite of often vivid depictions of American scenes and activities, achieved the popularity of  Canyon. There is good reason for this—most of the music although pleasant and highly listenable, is unmemorable.  Even Sand Storm, the final movement of Death Valley Suite, is tame in the extreme when compared with Cloudburst in Grand Canyon. Hollywood Suite originally was a ballet with a very specific scenario helpfully reprinted in its entirety in Naxos' fine notes by Victor and Marina A.Ledin; the six-movement suite was prepared by the composer in 1938. Death Valley Suite was commissioned to commemorate the centenary of the discovery of the area and premiered by the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra under the composer's direction before 65,000 people who attended the pageant celebrating the event December 3, 1949. André Kostelanetz commissioned Hudson River Suite and conducted the premiere with the D. C. National Symphony June 25, 1955. As with their previous Naxos GrofÈ CD containing Grand Canyon, Mississippi and Niagra Falls suites (REVIEW), Strickland and his fine orchestra offer superb, vital performances beautifully recorded.

While GrofÈ's colorful suites were liked from the beginning, the Harris and Gould symphonies did not have such good fortune. Harris' Symphony No.2 was written in 1934 for Serge Koussevitzky who had premiered the first symphony earlier that year. For an unknown reason, the famous conductor decided not to conduct the new symphony giving it instead to Assistant Conductor Richard Burgin.  Harris by that time had made a number of revisions, changes being made right up to the final rehearsal.  The composer did not attend the premiere Feb. 28, 1936—that same day his Prelude and Fugue was premiered by the Philadelphia orchestra (with Werner Janssen conducting).  Critics were not kind to Symphony No. 2. Harris virtually disowned it and it remained unperformed until conductor David Alan Miller undertook the task of restoring the symphony to its original form, which is heard on this recording.

Morton Gould's Symphony No. 3 suffered the same fate. The composer thought highly of it—feeling it was the best work he had yet written, he dedicated it to his parents—"the most important people in my life."  However, Dimitri Mitropoulos, a major advocate of Gould's music (he recorded several of his works) felt the final movement was too lively and fast, particularly following the whirlwind scherzo that precedes it, and suggested Gould write "something slow and sombre," which Gould did in the form of a passacaglia and fugue. The revised work was premiered with Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic Oct. 28, 1948, to a polite but unenthusiastic reception after which the symphony fell into oblivion. When conductor Miller was planning this recording he discovered the original finale on a high shelf at Gould's publishing house, G. Schirmer, where it had been undisturbed for more than a half-century. This is what is heard on this recording. Unfortunately this symphony, the longest the composer ever wrote (41:42), like most of Gould's big-scale works often sounds pretentious. One can admire his imaginative orchestration but must look in vain for lasting musical values. The third movement ("moderately fast with sardonic humor") shows strong jazz influences, Gould at his best.

Miller and the splendid orchestra play both of these American symphonies expertly and the recorded sound is a model of clarity and perfect balance. This is a SACD (Super Audio CD); if you have a CD player that can read the SACD track, you'll hear the super high quality stereo version, if not, this disk is compatible with regular CD players which will play the regular high quality stereo tracks.  If you enjoy this, you surely must investigate another fine recording by Miller/Albany, featuring Showpiece for Orchestra, the Piano Concerto and StringMusic (REVIEW).

R.E.B. (September 2002)