Roy Harris. Symphony No. 2 and Morton Gould, Symphony No. 3. Albany
Symphony Orchestra, cond. David Alan Miller. Albany Records. TROY 515.
SACD. TT: 62:07.
RECOMMENDATION: an exceptionally apt pairing of two long-neglected but
exciting symphonies that deserve to be much better known. Performances
and recording are excellent.
Morton Gould is not generally known primarily as a composer of symphonic
music. In fact, much of his career was involved with arrangements of
popular music for orchestra and he is probably more often thought of in
terms of that. However, much of his music was regarded with respect by
quite a number of the major symphonic conductors of his day, including
Reiner, Stokowski, Szell, Toscanini, Mitropoulos, and Barbirolli, as
well as soloists such as Heifetz. Undoubtedly, had Gould not accepted
the financial burden of supporting his parents and siblings at an
astoundingly young age, instead of accepting the full scholarship to
Curtis to study with Fritz Reiner that he was offered, his career would
have taken a very different course. As things fell out, Gould became
very successful in the early years of radio broadcasting, and critical
reaction to his most serious compositions was surely influenced by the
reputation he established there. I can strongly recommend the very
well-written biography of Morton Gould by Peter W. Goodman for the
I can also strongly recommend this well prepared, well performed and
well recorded CD of Gould's splendid Symphony No 3--as well as its very
apt disc-companion, Roy Harris' Symphony No. 2. Both works have been
in near-oblivion for many years and Albany is to be commended for this
extremely welcome release.
The Gould Third, written in 1947, runs well over forty minutes. It
inhabits the same sound-world as other mid-20th century neoclassical
American symphonies, including Harris', but as Goodman says, "there isn't
a trace of folkloric Americanism" in it. The work is performed here
with its original fourth movement, rather than with the passacaglia and
fugue that he was persuaded to substitute after its premiere. It opens
strongly, perhaps with "vehement anguish, as Roy Bono, the Albany
commentator, hears it, but perhaps also with something quizzical in its
expression. Both of these expressive elements pervade the movement, and
there is much loud brass and pounding percussion, but this tension eases
more than once and there is some flowing melody and quiet woodwind.
The long second movement marked simply "moderately slow and relaxed" is
quietly songful, with pleasurable melodies, and its mood is in marked
contrast to what precedes and follows.
A scherzo follows. Marked "moderately fast with sardonic humor," it has
been called a jazzy fugue. It is perky, then brash, even uproarious.
Some material included along the way suggests that Gould might be thumbing
his nose at those critics who looked down on his taste for the popular
and who questioned whether his music was truly classical. I just love
The finale is varied in musical and expressive effect, and is brilliantly
scored. (Nobody ever questioned Gould's mastery of orchestration.) From
a tentative opening, broad phrases yield to sprightly melody before
momentum picks up and fast pounding rhythm imposes itself (in a passage
perhaps reminiscent of Shostakovich). There are some hushed moments
before a soaring trumpet demands one's attention before the end.
Roy Harris' Second Symphony, written for the Boston Symphony in 1934,
is half the length of Gould's Third, though if you consider that Harris'
great Third Symphony runs only 17 minutes, this proves nothing. But the
premiere, not even attended by the composer, did not go well and Harris
withdrew the work. Many revisions had preceded these events. For the
present recording, material cut from the symphony has been restored,
allowing us to hear the work as Harris originally intended. In my
opinion, the result is well worth hearing. It may not be Harris' best
work, but it is fresh-sounding and exciting to listen to just the same.
There seem to be "pre-echoes" of Harris' Third Symphony in each of
the three movements of his Second. The first movement has an assertive
opening, upbeat in mood, with short swirling phrases from the brass,
succeeded by strong drum beats. The mood becomes more reflective, and
there are interesting overlapping melodic lines. The second movement
is rather quiet, with long melodic lines and some striking melody.
The final movement has some pounding drums with trumpets and some
more contrapuntal blending of melodic lines.