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SCHUMAN, W.: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 9 / Circus Overture / Orchestra Song (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz)


Naxos 8.559254

   Classical Net, January 2011
   MusicWeb International, December 2010
   American Record Guide, November 2010
   Positive Feedback Online, July 2010
   Penguin Guide, January 2009
   Fanfare, November 2006
   Fanfare, May 2006
   Fanfare, November 2005
   Fanfare, September 2005
   American Record Guide, September 2005
   The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), June 2005
   Chicago Tribune, June 2005
   The Washington Post, June 2005
   MusicWeb International, June 2005
   The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2005
   New York Magazine, May 2005
   Miami Herald, May 2005
   MusicWeb International, May 2005

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Steve Schwartz.
Classical Net, January 2011

Some composers, like Debussy, create music like an artist paints. Others, like Bloch, write musical epics. Nielsen composes instrumental dramas. Virgil Thomson creates terse Japanese lyrics. Ives philosophizes like Thoreau or Emerson. Schuman writes essays. That is, he concerns himself mainly with clear musical argument.

Schuman’s Fourth, from the early Forties, consolidated his reputation as a major American symphonist after the acclaim that greeted his Third. Curiously, the Fourth doesn’t sound as characteristic of Schuman’s music as the Third. The influence of Copland, then probably at the height of his career, pervades it, particularly the Copland of the Short Symphony, and Schuman had in fact submitted his score to the older composer for criticism. However, unlike Copland, who consciously strove to create an “American” music (via Stravinsky), Schuman, in the next generation, tended to take the American qualities in his music for granted. He expressed mainly himself and in so doing manifested certain qualities (especially rhythmic ones) associated with music of the New World. He also was, to a large extent, hipped on counterpoint—academic, sectional, and his own special brand. However, his symphonic construction is anything but conventional. Indeed, the Fourth Symphony doesn’t follow so much as it analogizes sonata and rondo form. Connections between movements assume just as much importance in Schuman’s construction. Perhaps he picked up this outlook from his teacher, Roy Harris, also an odd master builder and gaga over counterpoint. Indeed, all the works here show far more virtuosic counterpoint, indeed revel in it, than those of most other American composers during the same period.

The Fourth begins with what becomes a passacaglia, begun (unusually) with solo bass and oboe. Above the bass, a repeated-note idea engenders several extensions. This leads to an allegro—a burst of repeated notes followed by a new tail, one which has consequences throughout the symphony. Schuman develops this as a fugato. The passacaglia bass is also treated in fugato by the winds and then the strings. The allegro returns with the tail (from now on referred to as the Big Theme) prominent. A double fugato follows, based the Big Theme and the repeated-note idea. The Big Theme emerges triumphant at the end.

The second movement, one of the loveliest in all of Schuman, opens with a sad arioso for the strings only. We hear in succession a passage for flute and brass, a fugato for winds, and a section for high brass and low strings. A new section, based on the repeated-note head in the first movement, provides contrast. The movement closes with a varied recap of the opening.

A contrapuntal extravaganza, the finale opens with yet another shot of repeated notes. Although one notes the similarities to other Forties symphonists like Piston, this movement strikes me as Schuman at his most characteristic—nervous, bright, incisive. Throughout this first section, the Big Theme begins to emerge. A series of remarkable fugatos on three ideas—a long, tied note followed by yet another stammer of quick repeated notes; the Big Theme (a section handled by the strings); and just the rapid notes. Schuman then gives us a grand contrapuntal summing up with all these ideas jostling one another. In the course of this, the rough edges of the Big Theme are knocked off, and it becomes increasingly diatonic and more prominent. In its new form, it ends the symphony.

I think of the Orchestra Song (1963) as a composer’s holiday. Schuman has written a goofy quodlibet on an absolutely trivial tune, which sounds like it comes from somewhere over the Tyrol—kind of an orchestral yodel. On the other hand, the counter-tunes get increasingly complex and one hears at least seven of them, including one featuring complexly rhythmic percussion. It’s as if someone told you an inane joke (with variations, sort of like “The Aristocrats”) over and over, until eventually your defenses cracked and you collapsed in a giggle fit. Schuman rounds it off with a perfect bit of silliness.
The Circus Overture (also known as Side Show) comes from 1944, when the Allies had begun to win the war in Europe. To me, there’s very little “circus” to it. Written for a Billy Rose “quality” Broadway revue that never came to fruition, the overture is a hard-driving toccata, similar to the finale of Schuman’s later New England Triptych, which relents a bit by surrealistically melting into a triple-time episode and then back again, like a Dali watch.

During the war, Italian partisans ambushed and killed 32 German soldiers. In reprisal, the Nazis gathered more than 300 innocent Italian men, women, and children into the Ardeatine Caves and mowed them down. They then bombed the bodies. The site became a memorial which Schuman visited in 1967. Schuman completed his Ninth Symphony, subtitled “Le fosse ardeatine,” in 1968. I bought the initial recording with Ormandy and the Philadelphia, who had recently premiered the work. Like most of Schuman’s late music, it gives the overall impression of somber meditation, although it has plenty of, at least, rhythmic contrast. Its three continuous movements—“Anteludium,” “Offertorium,” “Postludium”—suggest a church rite, particularly a requiem mass. The structure (and the timings) suggest that the middle section carries the weight of the symphony. The offertory, of course, prays for the release of the souls from torment.

The symphony begins with a single line, played by the violins and the cellos two octaves apart. As more instruments enter, the music becomes increasingly agitated, over what sounds like the constant muttering of the opening idea. It ends on chord-clusters consisting of, it seems like, the notes of that idea.

Schuman conceived of the central movement as “lighter”—a celebration of the lives the victims might have lived. But “lighter” is a relative term. Certainly the rhythms are livelier, but a harmonic pall covers everything. At the end, the air quietly and simply goes out of the music, and we find ourselves in the “Postludium,” essentially a series of chorales. The first moves slowly with suppressed anger. It leads to a dead march, with prominent (though quiet) percussion. An emotionally complex benediction begins in the strings—for me, if not for Schuman, it bears the emotional weight of the symphony. However, it refuses to leave quietly. Threats boil beneath the tight lid of the surface. At times, anger bursts through. In the last minute, the music builds up to a final cry.

The symphony puts you through an emotional wringer, mainly because Schuman doesn’t make connections to the factual event explicit through the music. If he had omitted the subtitle, the symphony would have still made a devastating, though slightly different, effect. It’s the inner program, not the outer one, that touches us so powerfully.

Schwarz’s Fourth competes with one from David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony on Albany TROY566. Miller, I think, leads a sharper, more direct first movement, closer to what I think of as Schuman’s characteristic sound. However, he hurries the slow movement, robbing it of its due weight, and his finale moves less coherently than Schwarz’s. Overall, Schwarz’s broader reading wins out and, excepting the first movement, yields nothing in clarity to Miller. Schwarz also wins out over Ormandy in the Ninth, but then Ormandy and the Philadelphia were playing complex music just after the ink had dried. I’m certain Schwarz learned something from Ormandy’s pioneering account and the intervening years.

My single favorite track on the CD is the Circus Overture. Schwarz gives us the musical essence of Schuman in a bravura reading. Obviously, he has connected deeply with Schuman’s art. An outstanding release in Naxos’s American series.



Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, December 2010

If the Naxos recording of the Violin Concerto and New England Triptych offers the ideal introduction to Schuman’s music, their series of recordings of the symphonies, of which this was the first, offers an excellent follow-up. Once again performance and recording are ideal.



Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, November 2010

Gerard Schwarz’s William Schuman symphony cycle is a landmark…a pleasant diversion.

To read complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.



Bob Neill
Positive Feedback Online, July 2010

SCHUMAN, W.: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 5 / Judith (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.559317
SCHUMAN, W.: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 9 / Circus Overture / Orchestra Song (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.559254
SCHUMAN, W.: Symphony No. 6 / Prayer in a Time of War / New England Triptych (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.559625
SCHUMAN, W.: Symphonies Nos. 7 and 10 (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.559255
SCHUMAN, W.: Symphony No. 8 / Night Journey / IVES, C.: Variations on America (orch. W. Schuman) (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.559651

Just as many of the twentieth century pastoral English composers take a lot of grief from tough minded modern critics for getting the English dream right, their American romantic counterparts get slammed for getting the American dream comparably right. I have no idea what Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, and William Schuman sound like to Europeans. Probably something like what Frederick Delius, Ralph Vaughn Williams, and Gerald Finzi sound like to Americans. Meaning it is likely the case that you have to be an American to hear it the way we do. It plays to our national self-confidence and love of simplicity and innocence (in all senses of the word). Unless my personal irony machine is turned on, this music takes me home, home to a place that never was but surely is. Innocent sexuality that is not in the least puritanical; sentiment that is poignant and not sentimental; pathos which is not pathetic; martial and heroic fanfare that spills not a drop of blood; conflict without irony; simplicity that is not reductive; darkness that hides no evil; a rural landscape with no tics (!) All is ultimately well, which is essential to the dream.

To write music that captures this dream for an audience who know it is a dream but who can be moved by it nonetheless, a modern composer must be sure-footed. We are not less romantic than our ancestors but we have been taught to be more defensive about being so. Modern romanticism shares some of the affected sophistication of late adolescence. In modern American romantic music that is successful, the dream comes with chromaticism, dissonant shading, and cross rhythms.

The Naxos series of the symphonic music of William Schuman (1910–1992), five CD’s so far, is a continuation of the Gerard Schwartz’s landmark American symphonies project with his Seattle Symphony begun for the late Dorian label toward the end of the last century. All of these recordings of Schuman’s work were done in the first decade of the twenty-first. Schwartz and his musicians have a way with modern American romantic music that is respectful rather than indulgent, which is much to their credit and our benefit. To overplay this music would kill it dead, which has been done.

Schuman’s romanticism is tougher and less melodic than that of most of his peers, especially in the latter half of his symphonic output. Symphonies 6–10 come out in essentially the same place as the earlier works, but they make us work harder to get there. They must also be more fun to play. Symphony No. 6, for example, is sufficiently bold, brassy, and craggy that its initial audience (in 1948), whose expectations of romanticism grew out of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Richard Strauss, couldn’t find the romanticism in it at all. And they hadn’t even heard symphonies 7–10 yet. If they heard it now, with a half century more of modernism in the books, they’d likely have a different experience. Schuman’s audiences much preferred his (most popular work) American Triptych (1956), which presents the composer’s romanticism undefended. This work is included (perhaps with a smile) on the disc with Symphony No. 6.

World War II definitely pushed Schuman to the edge of innocence, and while his imagination couldn’t take him over the edge, in Symphony No. 9 it definitely got him as far as anger. Symphony No. 10 (“American Music”) takes the furious anger of No. 9 and first redirects it toward a more positive kind of fury, then diffuses it into a restless but quieter section which seems to be buying time for some kind of concluding resolution or musical statement. When it arrives in the last section, it is far from innocent and less than confident, but it is the least troubled music we’ve heard from him since Symphonies 4 and 5. The twentieth century finally seems to have taken its toll on Schuman’s muse without showing him a new musical place to go. By the time we’ve reached this, his final symphony, it’s hard to call it modern romanticism anymore. The last notes are full of bravado rather than true confidence.

All of Schuman’s symphonic music is worth listening to, both for its own considerable musical appeal and for the story it dramatizes about why other composers found modernism necessary.

He was not unaware of modernist music around him—we can sometimes hear strong hints of Stavinsky-like neo-classicism wander into and out of a Schuman work. And of course Copland, the presiding spirit of modern American romanticism, is also present to be drawn on and resisted both.

I was not a fan of Naxos sonics in the earlier days of the label, especially on orchestral works. They’re very fine on these albums. Success may have increased the recording budget, which is all to the good. Naxos’ American Classics catalog is a rich source of music most of us would not otherwise have access to.




Penguin Guide, January 2009

SCHUMAN, W.: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 9 / Circus Overture / Orchestra Song (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.559254
SCHUMAN, W.: Symphonies Nos. 7 and 10 (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz) 8.559255

Gerard Schwarz and the Settle Orchestra give finely prepared and totally committed accounts of the present four. After the success of the wartime symphonies, Schuman became President of the Juilliard School of Music in 1945, and by the time he had completed the Eight in 1962 he was President of the new Lincoln Center. He is said to have composed early in the morning and then turned to musical education and administration for the rest of the day. The Fourth Symphony followed its famous predecessor within a few months, and its première was conducted by Koussevitzky. The Ninth was written in 1997, when Schuman had visited Rome and seen the memorial Le Fosse Ardeatine that commemorates a random massacre by Nazi forces. It is a dark and powerful score. The Seventh (1960) marks Schuman’s return to the symphony after a gap of 11 years, while the Tenth was commissioned fro the bicentennial celebrations of 1975. No one investigating these works will be disappointed.




Walter Simmons
Fanfare, November 2006

William Schuman is, of course, one of the most important American composers of a previous generation, perhaps one of the three greatest American symphonists of the 20th century. Although his music has not received much attention since his death in 1992, Naxos appears to be attempting to remedy this neglect by releasing new recordings of all 10 of his symphonies. Four of them have been released as of this writing. I hope the disc listed here will draw new admirers to this distinguished composer’s body of work.



Fanfare, May 2006

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Fanfare, November 2005

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Fanfare, September 2005

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David Perkins
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), June 2005

As a young man, Schuman played jazz and wrote popular songs (some with Frank Loesser). But after hearing Toscanini conduct at Carnegie Hall, he enrolled at Juilliard and studied with Roy Harris, who inducted him into a school of broad-shouldered American music. Like his teacher’s and much of Copland’s, Schuman’s music revels in a big orchestral sound and strong singing melodies. His penchant for Baroque-style forms gives the strong impulses of his music a studied cast, and the tight organization leads to a Haydenesque brevity.

Naxos’ first release includes Symphonies nos. 4 and 9 plus two shorter works, “Orchestra Song” and “Circus Overture.” The latter is a complex showpiece with splendid brass fanfares and dancing figures for the strings. The Ninth is a dark, mysterious work that reflects, the composer tells us, a visit to the site of a Nazi mass murder in Italy. It must speak as well of the Vietnam War and anti-war tensions in the year it was written, 1969.

The Seattle Symphony performs with polish under music director Gerard Schwarz.



Alan G. Artner
Chicago Tribune, June 2005

The major works in this inaugural volume both reflect aspects of World War II…Each is rich in melody, rhythmic complexity, and Schuman’s characteristic ejaculatory writing for winds, brass and percussion…Schwarz’s scrupulously balanced Ninth has the field to itself, unless someone reissues Eugene Ormandy’s dark, plushly recorded premiere from 1971. The lighter pieces, played with delicacy and zest, are welcome. Here’s hoping Schwarz gets access to the unknown first two symphonies. The project should outshine even his extensive work on behalf of the symphonies of Howard Hanson and David Diamond.



Joseph McLellan
The Washington Post, June 2005

William Schuman was not only a great composer but also a magnificent educator and arts administrator, at various times president of the Juilliard School (and founder of the Juilliard String Quartet) and president of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Even without his abundant and brilliant compositions, he would have left a lasting mark on American musical life. But his music is his greatest legacy, as this exciting disc makes clear. It is the beginning of a complete survey of his symphonies, and it shows him as a master of orchestration, a constant generator of striking new musical ideas and, perhaps most important of all, an outgoing romantic whose music is readily enjoyable by all. Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony do full justice to all his virtues in a recording that earns the highest possible recommendation.



John Quinn
MusicWeb International, June 2005

Back in the early 1990s Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony made a highly valuable series of recordings of American music for Delos. These included a fine cycle of the symphonies of Howard Hanson and several symphonies by David Diamond as well as music by Hovahness and Piston. There was also a single disc of music by William Schuman, including the Fifth Symphony and the New England Triptych (DE 3115). I bought every one of these CDs and enjoyed them greatly. When I saw this disc advertised, and knowing that Naxos has already reissued some of those Delos discs (with more to come, I hope), I just assumed that this was another original Delos release that I’d missed at the time. However, a glance at the recording dates confirmed this is a genuine new release. Best of all, a note on the back of the jewel case announces this as the start of a complete cycle of the Schuman symphonies. That is truly excellent news. All the symphonies (with the possible exception of the first two) have been recorded before, with fine versions of the Third from Bernstein and the Tenth from Slatkin among them. However, so far as I’m aware there has never been an intégrale before. If this CD, and its Delos predecessor are anything to go by the Schuman symphonies will be in safe hands here.

William Schuman was an extremely influential figure in twentieth century American musical life. Of particular note was his work as the long-serving President of the Juilliard School of Music (1945–1968) as well as his tenure as the first president of the Lincoln Center (1962–8)…He left a large body of compositions but live performances of them are not easy to come by these days and I have only ever encountered his music on disc. What I have heard of his output has impressed me as the product of a composer with an original voice, a searching mind and an excellent ear for orchestration. Schuman used quite a degree of dissonance in his music, and increasingly so as the years passed, but his language is always accessible. This CD does nothing to change that view.

The Fourth Symphony dates from 1941 and is cast in three movements. The first begins with a slow introduction that builds impressively. The main body of the movement is much more vigorous and rhythmically propulsive. Eventually a powerful, brass-dominated conclusion is reached. The second movement is marked “Tenderly, simply.” As the liner notes put it the mood is “melancholy yet infused with mediating warmth.” It’s an expansive and eloquent creation, which is played with noble intensity here. The final pages, introduced by an oboe solo, are especially dignified and satisfying. The finale is mainly extrovert and punchy. There’s a good deal of hustle and bustle before a boisterous conclusion, in which once again the brass section is well to the fore.

The Ninth Symphony is a tougher nut to crack for two reasons. In the first place, as I’ve mentioned, Schuman’s style evolved over the years and became much more gritty. Secondly, this work was his response to a harrowing experience. In 1967, while on a trip to Europe, he and his wife visited the Ardeatine Caves near Rome where, in 1944, the Nazis murdered over 300 Italian civilians and attempted to hide the corpses. Schuman himself said that while the symphony that he subsequently penned was “directly related to emotions engendered by this visit…[it] does not attempt to depict the event realistically”. The work plays continuously but is in three clearly defined sections, helpfully tracked separately on this disc.

The first section begins with a threnody, a long, angular melody on violins and celli. Jagged punctuations by the wind section fail to disrupt the progress of this theme. The music grows in intensity and volume. It’s disturbing stuff, especially when the horns contribute another angular line. Eventually Schuman’s trademark use of brass and percussion in blocks of sound adds real power. In due course the tumult subsides but the mood of disquiet and unease is not dispelled and there’s a last eruption, dominated by brass and timpani, before the second section begins in a faster tempo. I must confess that I don’t feel I’ve fully assimilated this part of the work yet. Schuman himself wrote of it that the section “with its various moods of fast music, much of it far from somber, stems from the fantasies I had of the variety, promise and aborted lives of the martyrs”. Perhaps it’s the composer’s description that has created the problem for me. This is also highly unsettling music, jagged, fragmentary and dissonant. Had I not read Schuman’s words before listening I would indeed have assumed that this part of the work depicted the actual atrocity for so it sounds. It seems to me that a dark energy, often violent, prevails throughout most of this section. The concluding section of the work consists of slow, sombre music of considerable power. Often this power is suppressed, at least in terms of volume of sound, and it’s all the more effective for that. It sounds like an Elegy for the Innocents. It’s deep and sincerely felt music and rather profound.

This is a disturbing and demanding symphony. Listening to it requires some effort on the part of the listener but the effort is worthwhile. Since the work is a response by an American composer to a wartime atrocity it was perhaps fitting, if entirely coincidental, that I finished my period of listening to this work while in the USA on Memorial Day, the day when that country’s wartime sacrifices are recalled. Certainly in this work Schuman has recalled and reflected on the horrors and sacrifices of war in a moving and sincere fashion.

To fill out the disc Schwarz and his team give us two short works. Orchestral Song is a slight piece, an arrangement of an Austrian folk song. It doesn’t add much to our knowledge of the composer but it’s pleasant listening and it’s nice to have it available. Like its companion it offers a bit of relaxation between the rigours of the symphonies and its inclusion was no doubt planned as such. The other piece is the Circus Overture. Leonard Bernstein once said that conducting Schuman’s American Festival Overture (1939) was “like leading a cheer”. This is a similarly unbuttoned piece, extrovert and colourful, and it’s great fun.

This is a disc that has left me hungry for more. All the music is splendidly played. Schwarz and his orchestra perform it with assurance and great commitment. The engineers have preserved the performances in excellent sound and Steven Lowe contributes a very useful liner note.

I hope that Naxos will go on to complete this promised series. (I see there have been some very recent performances of the Third symphony in Seattle so I hope a recording will be linked to those.) I also hope that Naxos will, through a mixture of reissues and new recordings, give us more releases by this team of music by Piston and, most pressingly of all, that they will make available a complete cycle of David Diamond’s hugely impressive symphonies.

For now, this Schuman cycle has been launched most auspiciously. There is fine music here by a composer who really had something to say. I await further instalments with impatience and in the meantime recommend this CD urgently.



David Patrick Stearns
The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2005

These two symphonies—the fourth premiered in 1942 in Cleveland, the ninth in 1969 in Philadelphia—are full of arresting moments, both emotionally and in terms of orchestral effects…these pieces are layered with dark mysteries that make you want to hear them again and again. Also, the recording quality drawn from Seattle’s Benaroya Hall is outstanding.



John Simon
New York Magazine, May 2005

…though separated by decades, the two war symphonies are exceptional—exemplary showcases of “The American Sound” in symphonic music (i.e. athletic, modal, spacious, dramatic, starkly songful). They are sound scapes full of mass sonority, vigor and seriousness. The performances and recordings are brand new and superb.



Lawrence A. Johnson
Miami Herald, May 2005

Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony have done yeoman service for the cause of American music, with their recordings for Delos exploring neglected works of Hanson, Piston, Diamond, Mennin and others. Many of those performances have been reissued in Naxos’s American Classics series. It’s great to see Schwarz commence a new series for the enterprising label with this first disc of a complete cycle of William Schuman’s symphonies…Schuman’s Symphony No. 4 opens with a long winding theme for English horn over an ominous treading bass line. The music accelerates into a con spirito section that shows the influence of Roy Harris, culminating in a kaleidoscopic high-energy coda with triumphant brass fanfares. Marked “Tenderly, simply,” the second movement is subdued and introspective with ruminative wind solos. The composer’s acclaimed polyphonic writing is spotlighted in the animated finale with several contributions by all orchestra sections.

The Symphony No. 9 is a more somber affair. The subtitle Le fosse ardeatine refers to the Italian caves where a brutal Nazi reprisal murdered over 300 innocent people. The tragic inspiration is clearly felt in the opening section’s pensive string phrases; a counterpoint of leaping wind lines surfaces but the overall expression remains solemn. The second movement offers contrast with whirlwind figures and Schuman’s brand of jazz-inflected vitality, while the Postludium returns to the opening’s darker colors and subdued tragedy.

Of the two fillers, Orchestra Song is a charming 3-minute arrangement of an Austrian folk song with much rustic good humor, and the Circus Overture whips up a considerable amount of brassy Broadway energy. Schwarz deftly negotiates the symphonies’ occasional dull patches, and his astute direction draws playing of great dedication and incisiveness, making this a fine kickoff to what should be a rewarding series.



John Phillips
MusicWeb International, May 2005

At last! I have been banging on for ages as to why Naxos do not record and issue American symphonic works of the calibre of those by William Schuman. Well, here at last, is the first in a series of the complete symphonies, presumably to be played by the same ensemble as the present release. Although the Seattle Symphony is not in the top league of American orchestras, I cannot think that any of them would have done a better job than Maestro Schwarz and his band.

William Schuman is one of America’s premiere symphonic composers and most of his ten Symphonies have been available before, although as far as I am aware this is the first recording of No. 9. (If I am wrong, I am sure someone will get in touch to correct me!) (Editor’s note: The first on CD. The premiere recording was made by RCA with the Philadelphia conducted by Ormandy. That was issued on LP. I am sure I have heard rumours that the Philadelphia RCA had been issued on CD in Japan but I cannot be absolutely sure. RB).

Naxos have re-issued some of the Seattle recordings of works by other American composers originally set down by Delos, but this current release appears to be one of Naxos’s own. They do however, appear to be using the same engineer as Delos; so it could be that apart from Naxos’s producer, it is essentially the same crew. The sound quality is indistinguishable from the American label and so there is no cheapening of the product. Prospective buyers can go ahead with no reservations on that score.

William Schuman is a bit of an enigma in the field of American music. He started off by specialising in jazz and pop. After hearing Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic in 1930, his direction of studies changed from commerce to music. He studied first at Columbia University and then at the Juilliard with Roy Harris. Later, at the Sarah Lawrence College, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his Cantata A Free Song; that was in 1943. Not content with that, in addition to his writing activities he managed to find time to be both the President of the Juilliard School in New York and Director of Publications at G. Schirmer.

Both of these symphonies have war as their major influence. The Fourth Symphony was premiered by Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra, a month or so after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Its relatively optimistic flavour must have provided a positive approach after such a dark time. The first movement moves gradually from a sombre opening to a brilliant brass climax with the scenery being that of Copland and Harris although with Schuman’s distinctive tone colouration in the orchestra. The second movement is tender in character, again with complex strands of texture making for an extremely interesting journey. The movement is again subdued but its overall temperature is warm—a lovely episode. The finale begins with an animated dialogue between wind and strings. This develops by increasing the temperature and complexity with all sections of the orchestra joining in to produce a riot of colour in true Schuman style. The virtuosity of the orchestra is most impressive, and there is also a spirit of genuine excitement in the playing.

The Ninth Symphony is an altogether darker work, but none the worse for that. It was inspired by a visit the composer and his wife made to the Ardeatine Caves, the site where the Nazis slaughtered 355 Italian men, women and children, and then tried to hide the evidence by bombing the site. The place has now become a shrine. Schuman was so moved by it, that this symphony resulted. It does not set out to describe the shrine in any way, more than that, it re-creates the emotions felt by the composer and his wife during their visit. The three movements are played without a break: slow, fast, slow. The symphony was premiered in Philadelphia by Eugene Ormandy in 1969, and the New York premiere was by Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic the following year.

The two fillups are short incidental pieces, and although marvellous to have, do not change my response to this disc in any way. This is an auspicious start to a series which deserves every success, and at last allows us to hear the works of this major American symphonist in first class sound. I don’t need to add that they are at a ridiculously cheap price.

Schuman’s symphonies are not immediately accessible, but more than pay back any effort that the listener devotes to them. Existing fans of the composer, and I consider myself to be one of them, will be ecstatic.

Recommended with all possible enthusiasm—thank you Naxos!






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