CD review: Ross Harris: Symphony No.5 & Violin Concerto

By William Dart

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Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Naxos Records are creating a substantial catalogue of the music of Ross Harris.

Their latest release is the third in an ongoing series, pairing the New Zealander's 2010 Violin Concerto with his 2013 Fifth Symphony. Both have been recorded in concert and, thanks to producer Wayne Laird, positively glow in the unrivalled acoustics of Auckland Town Hall.

The Concerto would need no concessions at all on an international stage. First-rank Russian soloist Ilya Gringolts and livewire Scottish conductor Garry Walker illuminate its intricate conversations and weave, in telling partnership with orchestral players.

Harris' Symphony No.5 incorporates three settings of poems by Panni Palasti. Alas, they miss out on the naturalness and unforced dramatic impact achieved when Madeleine Pierard sang Vincent O'Sullivan's verses in the composer's prize-winning Symphony No.2.

Palasti's texts, which spring from personal sufferings in both World War II and the Hungarian Revolution, are touching but come across awkwardly, in their fragmented, predominantly small-scale settings, as sung by Australian mezzo Sally-Anne Russell.

Harris has erected some effective orchestral movements around these songs. Conductor Eckehard Steir sustains a Mahlerian weight and flow in the opening Adagio and steers his orchestra through the fierce and unpredictable rapids of the first scherzo in a virtuoso piece of navigation.

What: Ross Harris: Symphony No.5 & Violin Concerto (Naxos)
Rating: 4/5
Verdict: A local violin concerto worthy of the international stage

- NZ Herald

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