KOUSSEVITZKY Rare American Symphony Performances: Harris, Hill, Diamond (1943/44) - PASC484

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KOUSSEVITZKY Rare American Symphony Performances: Harris, Hill, Diamond (1943/44) - PASC484

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ROY HARRIS Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 2 

Live recordings, 1943 & 1944
Total duration: 77:49 

Serge Koussevitzky, conductor
Boston Symphony Orchestra

This set contains the following albums:

Three previously unissued American symphonies - including two world premières

 "Vivid performances in clear historic sound that captures the tragedy, up-beat excitement and sheer valour of the times in which they were performed"
- MusicWeb International

  • All three recordings on this release are truly historic documents, not only of the works and performances concerned, but of Serge Koussevitzky and the BSO's tremendous work in promoting and commissioning new works. Edward Burlingame Hill's Symphony No. 1 was premièred by Koussevitzky in 1928 (to be followed by two more symphonies) - this was its final BSO performance of nine.

    The Harris and Diamond symphonies here are both premières (to be technically correct they had received their first performances the previous day in Friday matinee concerts, duplicated the evening after from which these recordings derived). Resurrecting these previously unheard acetate off-air recordings has been a monumental task, with numerous significant technical hurdles to be overcome, including massive pitch issues particularly with the Harris and Hill.

    Surface noise was a constant and at times chronic problem, and unfortunately some peak distortion remains, particularly in the finale of the Diamond. The latter also required two minor patches to cover side changes, which I hope I have rendered undetectable. Cross-talk and other radio interference have been removed, though the frequency and dynamic limitations of AM radio remain.

    That said, the finished result of my efforts will prove, I hope, entirely enjoyable. The Harris and Diamond symphonies may be familiar to some; however this appears to be the only known recording of Hill's Symphony No.1.

    Andrew Rose

    • ROY HARRIS  Symphony No. 5 (1942) - WORLD PREMIERE

    • EDWARD BURLINGAME HILL  Symphony No. 1 in B flat, Op. 34 (1927)  - ONLY KNOWN RECORDING
      Recorded live at Symphony Hall, Boston, 27 February 1943

    • DAVID DIAMOND  Symphony No. 2 (1943) - WORLD PREMIERE
      Recorded live at Symphony Hall, Boston, 14 October 1944

    Boston Symphony Orchestra
    Serge Koussevitzky
    , conductor



    Programme notes for the concerts of 26 and 27 February 1943:

    By Roy Harris
    Born February 12, 1898, in Lincoln Count), Oklahoma
    Completed at the end of 1942, this symphony is having its first performances.
    The following orchestration is called for: three flutes and piccolo, three oboes and two English horns, two clarinets, E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet, three bassoons and contra-bassoon, eight horns, three trumpets and two cornets, three trombones, baritone and bass tubas, tenor saxophone, timpani, percussion, and strings. The percussive instruments include a marimba, vibraphone, chimes, cymbals, snare drum, two military drums, and piano.
    The first four symphonies of Roy Harris have been performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the First, Second, and Third having had their first public performances at its concerts. The new Symphony is appropriately introduced in the week which marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Russian Red Army, as will be seen by Mr. Harris’s dedication:
    “Our own Vice-President the Honorable Henry A. Wallace recently declared: ‘In all of Russian history there is no more striking example of courage and willingness to sacrifice than Russia presents today.It is no accident that Americans and Russians like each other when they get acquainted. Both people know that their future is greater than their past. It is my belief that the American and Russian people can and will throw their influence on the side of building a new Democracy which will be the hope of all the world.’
    “As an American citizen I am proud to dedicate my Fifth Symphony to the heroic and freedom-loving people of our great Ally, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as a tribute to their strength in war, their staunch idealism for World peace, their ability to cope with stark materialistic problems of world order without losing a passionate belief in the fundamental importance of the arts.”
    Mr. Harris furnishes this information about the new Symphony:
    “Since the meaning of any music depends on the experience of the person who hears it, I hesitate to specify what I hope to express in this symphony. Yet people are often guided to a better understanding of music if they have word ideas to help them in the appreciation of musical ideas. And so I shall attempt to say in words what I have put into the music of this Symphony.
    “I hoped to express qualities of our people which our popular dance music, because of its very nature, cannot reveal. Our people are more than pleasure-loving. We also have qualities of heroic strength — determination — will to struggle — faith in our destiny. We are possessed of a fierce driving power — optimistic, young, rough and ready — and I am convinced that our mechanistic age has not destroyed an appreciation of more tender moods. And it is right that these gentler moods should live in us. Otherwise our strength and vitality might degenerate into a ruthless brutality.
    “These were the feelings which aroused me to write the Symphony. But as the work unfolded it seemed to assume the character of our times. It became more martial — more savage — more ominously brooding and intense than I had imagined it in the beginning. The Symphony seemed to possess an independent life of its own which I had to accept and translate.
    “I had planned to write this Symphony during the late summer and fall of 1940. I had promised Dr. Koussevitzky that it would be ready for the spring of 1941. But after working on it during the month of September, I found I was not ready to write it.
    “And so it was not until the summer of 1942 while I was in Colorado Springs at the great mountains near by that I knew that I could write the work. We came home to Cornell University and began the Symphony in early October. It was completed on Christmas morning, followed by great rejoicing and festivities in our home, where students and friends and fellow teachers came to drink a toast to the new Symphony and wish each other a merry Christmas — knowing full well that “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men” was only something to hope and, ironically enough, to fight for.
    “The Symphony is in three movements. The first movement is a Prelude of about six minutes in length. It is very martial in character, and according to its form moves always forward without development sections.
    “The second movement is in singing choral style, yet it is rhapsodic. After opening with a dark savage introduction which leads to the first long melody (bassoons, English horns), the violins take up the melody and carry it upward to their highest registers, where they stay above a 3-voiced choral in brass and wood winds. The violas and ’cellos sing through this choral from their low to their high registers, where they join the violins. This marks the climax of the movement, from where all the strings come slowly downward against brass and wood wind harmonies to a long choral which opens antiplionally between fortissimo muted strings and sonorous brass and wood wind passages. The whole orchestra gradually wields together to close the chorals of hope and peace.
    “The last movement is structural in materials and form. This movement is a triple fugue in three sections, A, B and C. At the same time it combines the rondo principle in that the opening motif is used for strettos of the first section of the fugue, the subject of which is announced after an introduction of motif I.
    “The second section is in itself a double fugue, the two subjects of which are generated from the opening motif. The last section further states and develops the materials of section A and B, culminating in a broad climax.”

    SYMPHONY in B-flat major, No. 1, Op. 34 (Composed in 1927)
    By Edward Burlingame Hill 
    Born in Boston, Mass., September 9, 1872

    This symphony was composed in 1927 and first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Boston, on March 30, 1928. The symphony has also been performed March 22, 1929, and December 21, 1934.

    The orchestration includes four flutes and two piccolos, two oboes and English horn, three clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contra-bassoon, six horns, four trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, glockenspiel, piano and strings. The score is dedicated to Serge Koussevitzky.

    The First Symphony, so Mr. Hill explains, “has no descriptive basis, hints at no dramatic conflict or spiritual crisis. It attempts merely to develop musical ideas.

    “After three measures of introduction, the principal theme is announced by the horns. After the usual transition, the second theme, given mainly to strings, appears in the mediant major. The conclusion theme emphasizes the same tonality. The development is based upon the principal subject, and the conclusion theme up to the passage which leads to the restatement. The'second theme is then given more orchestral emphasis. The coda is brief, and the end quiet.

    “In the slow movement, a section in E-flat minor gives way to an episode in the relative major. After some development, the first section returns somewhat varied, and closes with an allusion to the central episode.

    “The finale is virtually in rondo form. The first theme is rhythmical; the second lyrical. Towards the close of the movement, the second theme is given to the brass, leading to a brief coda.”

    Mr. Hill has composed three symphonies. The Second, in C major, was introduced at these concerts February 27, 1931, and the Third, in G major, December 3, 1937. The Sinfonietta, in one movement, was played March 10, 1933, and the String Sinfonietta April 17, 1936.

    Programme notes for the concerts of 13 and 14 October, 1944:
    By David Diamond
    Born at Rochester, New York, July 9, 1915
    This symphony, here having its first performance, was sketched early in 1942, completed in rough draft in January, 1943, and in full score in the month following.
    The following instruments are required: three flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets and bass-clarinet, two bassoons and contra-bassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, triangle, cymbals, large gong, glockenspiel, xylophone, and strings.
    The composer disclaims any programmatic intentions in his symphony, leaving the individual listener to find what he may of this sort in its more “sombre and elegiac” portions. “Naturally enough, this work was composed during days of tense world unrest, and I am quite sure that a certain amount of exterior emotional influence has affected the quality of the symphony, though I cannot guarantee the raison d'être for its inspiration. Indeed, I have one or two friends
    who, when I played sketches for them or described some of the material, immediately pounced upon all sorts of vague and ridiculous analogies of the kind one associates with analyses of the recent Shostakovitch symphonies. It was in no way my intention to have the musical substance represent specific emotional reactions or to conjure up programmatic fantasies. I have a horror of anything as prosaic as that, and since I have never known that method of musical conception, I can only say that the opposite is true. My emotional life and reactions to certain events and situations have worked hand in hand with purely abstract musical conception and manipulation of material; and it was always the material that remained foremostly important to me in my working stages.” 
    Mr. Diamond furnishes the following analysis:
    I. Adagio funebre. A lyric movement of elegiac character consisting of two subjects: a long melody for the violins in unison (heard immediately after a short introduction by violas and ’cellos divisi) and accompanied by an ostinato figure in ’cello and basses; and a plangent melody for oboe solo accompanied by trilling violas — heard midway during the movement. The structure of the entire movement may be considered as a sonata-allcgro movement in slow tempo, utilizing all the formal and technical features of development and recapitulation.
    II. Allegro vivo. The Scherzo movement, which has for its basic material a rhythmic figure mockingly tossed back and forth between ’cellos and basses and one bassoon. The rhythmic figure out of which this movement is built is derived from the second subject in the first movement. There is no trio section by itself. The contrasting trio-like sections exist within the movement itself, most prominent being the section for brass in octaves accompanied by solo tympani and in later form by strings in unison accompanied by tympani.
    III. Andante espressivo, quasi adagio. This movement makes use of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic elements heard in the first movement. After a short introduction utilizing the dirge-like motif (heard at the outset of the first movement in basses and tympani) in the first movement, there grows a short theme for muted violas (later to be developed in the fugato section). A clarinet solo follows leading directly into a chorale-like section for strings, which, for the main part, is played in unison by the first violins unaccompanied. The clarinet solo heard in the opening is eventually heard in the second half of the movement as the fugato subject played by horns and strings in unison. As contrast, there are several wistful episodes for strings alternating with passages of strong emotional contrast. The movement is extensively worked out in restatement and development of all the elements heretofore heard.
    IV.Allegro vigoroso. The function of this movement is definitely that of the lively rondo-finale. The movement opens with a vigorous march-like subject for unison strings. Several of the episodes have important thematic functions; especially so the lyric folk-song-like B sec-tion and the pizzicato C episodes for strings alone. The form is easily followed as: A-B-A (modified)-B-A-C-A (modified)-C-A-B-A-C (modified)- A-Coda.
    David Diamond studied violin with André de Ribaupierre at the Cleveland Institute of Music; composition with Bernard Rogers at the Eastman School of Music, with Roger Sessions and Paul Boepple in New York, and with Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau and Paris. He has had numerous fellowships and other awards.
    His orchestral works include the “Psalm” for orchestra (1936), performed recently by the San Francisco Symphony under Pierre Monteux; Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1936); Suite from the Ballet “Tom” to a scenario by E. E. Cummings (1936); Aria and Hymn for Orchestra, dedicated to the memory of Albert Roussel (1937); an Overture for Orchestra (1937); Variations for Small Orchestra (1937); Heroic Piece for small orchestra (1938); Elegy in memory of Maurice Ravel for Strings and Percussion (1938); Concerto for ’Cello and Orchestra (1938); First Symphony (1940), first performed by the New York Philharmonic under Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1941; Concerto for Chamber Orchestra (1940).
    Chamber music works include a Sonata for ’Cello and Piano (1936-38); Concerto for String Quartet (1936); Quintet for Flute, String Trio and Piano (1.987); Quartet for Piano and String Trio (1938); String Quartet No. 1 (1940); String Quartet No. 2 (1943-44); Preludes and Fugues for the piano; Concerto for Two Solo Pianos (1942), introduced by Bartlett and Robertson and more recently by Morley and Gearhart; numerous songs to texts by Shelley, John Clare, Katherine Mansfield, Katherine Anne Porter, E. E. Cummings, Carson McCullers,- T. S. Eliot, Robert Penn Warren and Kenneth Patchen. His most recently completed work is the “Rounds” for string orchestra. The following are in course of composition: a ballet, “The Dream of Audubon,” to a scenario by Glenway Wescott; a Sonata for Violin and Piano; songs to texts by St. Teresa of Avila, Herman Melville, James Agee and Thomas Mann.

  • MusicWeb International Review

    Koussevitzky was a boon to American composers of the first half of the twentieth century and this disc adduces three substantial pieces of evidence bearing out the assertion

    For such a diminutive outfit, Pristine are astonishingly productive in terms of quality and quantity. Add to this, that, to their credit they will not allow slight blemishes - even ones that cannot be 'healed' to prevent the issue of valuable and enjoyable rare material. They have also had the integrity to reissue their recordings where improved originals have surfaced after initial release.

    Pristine's foray into the historical recorded legacy music of America from the first half of the twentieth century is expansive. It takes in the prodigious work of Howard Hanson as composer and as conductor (review review review review) as well as a blistering account of Hanson's opera Merry Mount (review), a selection of rarities from 78s including the Piston Second Symphony (review) and Piston's Third as conducted by Koussevitzky and recorded in 1948. Add to these two very special Harl Macdonald discs (review review review).

    Now Andrew Rose - who is Pristine Audio - adds an impeccably fully-loaded CD of 1940s vintage recordings of live performances, all in his trademark XR re-mastering. These three previously unissued mono inscriptions of rare American symphonies are in historic sound originating in the AM radio signal of the 1940s. They blossom under Pristine's care. All that punctilious surgery on clicks, cracks, distortion and ambience must have been time-consuming. It was worth the effort.

    Two of the symphonies (Harris and Diamond - products of war-time) are heard in their premieres so have documentary standing quite apart from their intrinsic musical values and pleasures. Koussevitzky was a boon to American composers of the first half of the twentieth century and this disc adduces three substantial pieces of evidence bearing out the assertion.

    Koussevitzky had a belief in Harris the symphonist in which he was not alone among North America's great conductors and orchestras. His practical commitment to the cause can be traced back to his 1934 recording of Harris's First Symphony 1933: Pearl GEMM CD 9492 and before that on LP Columbia Masterworks ML5095 from the original 78s. Then, so far as record collector enthusiasts are concerned, there was the standard-bearer for Harris during his years of neglect: Koussevitzky's 1939 recording of the Third Symphony (Great Conductors of the 20th Century on EMI CZS 5 75118-2 originally released on RCA LCT-1153 circa 1955 from RCA 78s). The latter also included Koussevitzky and the Bostonians in Sibelius 5 and Pohjola's Daughter. This was my initiation into the world of Roy Harris via RCA Victrola VIC 1047 in their Sovereign LP series. I bought the Victrola LP secondhand as a student from a small record shop in Bristol not far from Gloucester Road. You can add to this roll-call the Harris Sixth Symphony which was issued by AS Disc on AS 563: Boston Symphony Hall, 15 April 1944.

    The Harris has a vital energising kick and those eight horns belting out in unison only emphasise this. The first movement stands as one of Harris's most heroic and determined inspirations. Koussevitzky does nothing to mask the gallantry; rather he presses and pushes forward. The slow middle Chorale growls and rumbles with tragedy; there's a cough at one point but it is soon gone. The pressurised writing here reminded me several times of RVW 4. The final Fugue is not a typical rigid fugue, so worry not. Harris suffuses that movement with nervy electricity and pliantly dancing optimism. Some of this can be felt also in the Fourth Symphony's purely instrumental movements. Fast-stabbing attack characterises the movement as does the sound of massed violins in high tension neon cantabile. Yes, the sound crumbles at the periphery in the violin 'songs' but never so much that you cannot follow and revel in this very special music-making. This disc presents Harris 5 in its original version. Harris continued to make revisions to the work. There have been two modern recordings of the Fifth Symphony (Naxos and First Edition). This Pristine one occupies a position in relation to them rather similar to that of the 1938 Bruno Walter Mahler Ninth to the market-leader digital Mahler 9s; see also here. The same can be said of this Diamond Second Symphony.

    I wonder if anyone out there has the William Steinberg/Pittsburgh Symphony LP of the Fifth. It's on Pittsburgh Festival of Contemporary Music PFCM-CB-165. I would very much like to hear it.

    It's such a pity that, after the Sixth, Harris symphony premieres seemed to move away from Boston and Koussevitzky. Harris dedicated the Fifth to "the heroic and freedom-loving people of our great Ally, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics". He reportedly suffered during the McCarthy era for his pro-Soviet stance; but then so did Copland. Even so, Ormandy in 1956 recorded the Seventh Symphony (Albany TROY 256) and it is nothing less than a glory of recorded sound. The Seventh stands as the pinnacle of Harris' achievement, even more so than the multiply-recorded Third.

    There has been well-merited praise for the music of Edward Burlingame Hill not least for the Fourth Symphony (Bridge) and the Violin Concerto (West Hill). In fact the 'trigger' for me was Bernstein's venerable recording of Hill's orchestral Prelude - a lush impressionistic work seemingly influenced by Daphnis and by Spring Fire. The lushly passion-saturated three-movement First Symphony is fresh and has a Franckian propulsion. The finale has some swooning Baxian writing too; no wonder that the same forces had premiered Bax's Second Symphony only two years after this work was premiered there. The Hill is a winning work and its success lies in the Boston/Koussevitzky factor. I have been disparaging of Koussevitzky's much vaunted commercially recorded Sibelius but these live performances are quite another matter. There's the occasional dim and distant cough and applause at the end but little to detract.

    The four-movement David Diamond Second Symphony surges forward with luxuriously Barber-like lungs - elongated singing lines and great emotional concentration. Its first movement is, after all, an Adagio funebre. The following Allegro vivo has the fierce tempestuous pulse of Ulysses Kay's contemporaneous overture New Horizons and at about 1:20 Diamond introduces a euphoria that tempers the preceding grittily embattled writing. The third movement is a serene eclogue. Its Andante espressivo is most moving, as indeed is much of this symphony. Once again those intense strings suffer from a degree of audio spalling but their import remains clear. The vibrant Allegro vigoroso promises victory in heroic language that has much in common with the Harris. Its life-enhancing pizzicato recalls similar pages in Harris's Fourth. This Diamond symphony has enjoyed a good modern recording originally on Delos DE3093 but adopted into the Naxos family. It has also had at least one broadcast outside the USA: Gerard Schwarz conducted the BBCPO in 1990 in Manchester.

    The splendidly detailed and accessibly written original programme notes for all three works can be found at the Pristine website.

    Thanks to Pristine for this triumphantly successful revival of three grand-hearted American symphonies. They are given vivid performances in clear historic sound that captures the tragedy, up-beat excitement and sheer valour of the times in which they were performed. I hope that Pristine will continue quarrying this vein with other American symphonies of the 1940s and 1950s.

    Rob Barnett

  • MusicWeb International