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Classical - Released September 30, 2016 | Signum Records

Hi-Res Distinctions Gramophone Editor's Choice
It may be that it takes non-Americans to see the continuity in American musical traditions. This release by English violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Litton has a unique program that will remind listeners of the antecedents to the musically accessible language of John Adams and his contemporaries. The 1949 Concerto for Violin of Roy Harris, and indeed much of this composer's music, is not often performed, and the violin concerto specifically was virtually lost after its composition (it received its premiere only in 1984). The booklet here presents a nice overview of Harris, who worked his way through the University of California by driving a dairy truck. The concerto makes an ideal pair with Adams' popular Violin Concerto. It is in a single movement with four sections, sounding in part like Copland in its evocations of fiddle tunes and of the American West, but often taking on a more economical language that shows Harris was listening to modernist composers even if he did not follow their lead. Sample his first section for an idea of how he pairs his fiddle tunes not with expansive tonal backgrounds as Copland did, but with a more restricted modal palette, and for a good representation of Waley-Cohen's lithe playing. The Adams concerto, finished in 1993, has been one of the composer's most popular works, and its exuberant melodicism ties it in a specific way to the Harris work. Might he have known Harris' concerto, obscure though it may be? Given the nature of his training, it's entirely possible, and the composer of My Father Knew Charles Ives has always been keenly aware of his place in American musical history. This fine British release makes that place all the more sure.