September 2, 2019

  • Music by Bassoonist and Composer Truman Harris


    Truman Harris: A Warm Day in Winter
    Alice Kogan Weintraub, Aaron Goldman, Carol Bean, Leah Arsenault Barrick, flutes;
    Nicholas Stovall, oboe; Paul Cigan, clarinet;
    Truman Harris, Sue Heineman, Steven Wilson, bassoons;
    Laurel Bennert Ohlson, horn;
    Audrey Andrist, piano;
    Eclipse Chamber Orchestra/Sylvia Alimena
    Naxos 8.559858
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****


    Truman Harris served as assistant principal bassoonist with the National Symphony Orchestra (he retired in 2017).  His contacts with the players and later performances with the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra and Capitol Woodwind Quintet led to his many chamber music compositions for winds especially.  He explores both traditional and unique combinations which are on display in the six works chosen for this album.  Four works for small ensemble are interspersed with the two larger chamber orchestra works which feature horn and flute, respectively.  He is also one of the featured bassoonists on the release.

    The album opens with a delightful five-movement woodwind quintet, Rosemoor Suite (2015).  This is a chance to enter into Harris’s musical style which is a blend of light neo-classicism and modernism blending the likes of Francaix and Poulenc with Hindemith.  One gets a sense of the composer’s wit in the “On the Trampoline” movement with thematic material recurring through the work.  A filmic sense is also part of the work with the way certain instruments come into the foreground to be spotlighted.  A delightful Charleston appears in the penultimate movement before a somewhat erratic finale depicting various moods of a “Silent Movie”.  The music has a great sense of wit and humor throughout with idiomatic writing for each instrument.  From the same year, Aulos Tryptich is a rather fascinating exploration of intertwining four flutes and piano.  The music moves through three different moods across the movements.  The other multi-movement wind quintet, Flowers (2006), connects specific moods and reflections upon the six blooms represented here.  Of additional interest is a Sonata for 2 Bassoons and Piano (2008).  This rather odd combination is a chance for Harris to demonstrate the importance of how the first and second bassoons must work together as a team in orchestral music and how that partnership can then transfer to this rather unique chamber setting.  The music has aspects of jazz rhythms and harmony which adds a fun flavor to the music here.  The descriptive movement titles provide the listener with imagery to conjure up.  The opening movement, “Until Three”, refers to the alert that the jam session must come to an end when the piano strikes three big chords.  The central movement allows for individual solos as well as a more romantic style.  The rondo finale provides more jazz excursions as well as creating some technical virtuosity.  The piece was written for the two soloists who perform it on this recording: Sue Heineman and Steven Willson.

    The first larger-scale work is Concertino for Horn and Chamber Orchestra (2001).  The three movements explore the characteristics of the solo instrument.  Both fanfare and heroism are part of the opening “Allegro” which incorporates whole-tone scales.  Romance follows in the “Aria and Recitatives” with moments of serenity and difficult pianissimo passages.  The finale is cast as a rondo and is an opportunity for technical virtuosity on the part of the soloist and a chance for Harris’s musical wit to shine through a bit too.  It is perhaps, the highlight of the work.  One of the sections here is a Viennese waltz.  The music is fairly traditional with a little Neo-Classical feel from time to time.  The composer’s wife, Laurel Bennert Olhlson, premiered the work and performs it here with its other dedicatee Sylvia Alimena, the director of the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra.  The final work on the album is a delightful Concertino for Flute and Chamber Orchestra (2003).  Alice Kogan Weinreb, who premiered the work, performs it here.  The three movement work opens with a more traditional sonata-allegro form, has a central movement with a five-beat rhythm and more romantic overtones, and concludes with a rondo that features plenty of musical surprises.

    These are all accessible chamber pieces that feature excellently-written lines for each instrument.  The chamber music in particular really shines here.  The performers provide committed and loving performances for this music which make it a rather delightful endeavor in a very full album of music.