Friday, July 3, 2015

Classic Americana

Albany (American Archives Series) TROY 256 (1997)
(Columbia mono recordings from 1953-1955)
Piston: Symphony #4
Harris: Symphony #7
W. Schuman: Symphony #6
Eugene Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra

Recorded in 1953 and 1954 respectively, the Schuman and Piston symphonies first appeared on Columbia ML 4992 (1955). The superb—definitive!—reading of Roy Harris’ Symphony #7 from 1955 was recorded that year, and issued on Columbia ML 5095 (1956), coupled with Serge Koussevitzky’s equally moving rendition of Harris’ Symphony ‘1933’ with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. These recordings were available on LP well into the 1970s on the Columbia Special Products label, retaining the same catalog numbers with the exception of the CSP AML prefix.

One suspects that only so much could be done with the original masters. Columbia’s 50s-era recorded sound was often rather compressed and ‘boxy’, though with a sufficient hint of resonance to convey seriousness and weight. Albany’s 1996 re-masterings open up the aural spectrum somewhat, and offer what comes as close to a natural sound as possible.

Nonetheless, it’s great to have Ormandy’s magnificent reading of the Harris Seventh on CD. This is one of the composer’s finest, and most perplexingly neglected major works. Conceptually organic, reminiscent structurally of the Third, though perhaps, in its totality, a more serious statement, the Seventh is certainly more concentrated and consistent in mood and atmosphere--qualities that Ormandy no doubt discerned, and endeavored to convey in his performance. 

Ormandy was one of Harris’ most enthusiastic champions, recording the Third several times both for CBS and RCA. The conductor would go on to lead the world-premiere of Piston's Seventh Symphony in 1960. 

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