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William SCHUMAN (1910-1992)
Violin Concerto (1950, rev. 1959) [32:38]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Serenade for violin, strings, harp and percussion after Plato's Symposium (1954) [31:04]
Robert McDuffie (violin)
Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
rec. 10-11 January 1989, Powell Hall, St Louis, Missouri. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

This disc is the exception to the usual approach adopted for the American Classics line. The norm has been to gather in tracks from every which way to produce a cogent mix usually structured around a single composer. This disc is an exact copy of the original CD issued in 1989 as CDC 7 49464 2.
It was the early 1970s before the blackly dramatic Schuman's Violin Concerto had been recorded. That sensational performance was by the Boston Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The DG recording set the standard and neither Quint on Naxos nor McDuffie here have quite the white heat generated by Zukofsky and the Bostonians. The original DG LP – which I played to a scratchy death – was 2530 103 but it was reissued on CD as 429 860-2.  It is Hall of Fame material so don’t miss the opportunity to get it if you stumble across a copy. On top of which it was coupled with Piston’s fine Second Symphony. McDuffie does not make the angst-ridden music of this two movement work fly as wildly as it does in Zukofsky’s hands. Nevertheless this is a performance in touch with Schuman the gaunt troubadour – the tragedian. It has a lot going for it including all the strident impudence and midnight sensuality you could ask for in the finale. The orchestra are at ease in this repertoire with finely pointed massed pizzicato, rasping monumental brass gestures (12:13) and the same glorious dynamic blast that rips through the final pages of the Third Symphony (see reviews of Bernstein conducitng this work on Sony and DG).
As for the Bernstein I came to know it from Francescatti’s ardent 1960s recording with the composer and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Its five titled movements are alive with gorgeous invention typical of Bernstein. In egalitarian style he shares his creative riches out between soloist and orchestra. The language is Bergian at times as at the start of the Socrates finale. This is no obstacle to some truly vibrant writing which moves in same sphere as the Walton and the Prokofiev First. McDuffie is cooler than Francescatti who I rate very highly indeed – fine Tchaikovsky, Walton and Sibelius concertos. It would have been good have heard him in the Schuman concerto.
Both the Bernstein and the Schuman pieces were premiered by Isaac Stern. The Schuman is a consummate scorching masterpiece and it helps that it has been attentively recorded. The sound is especially impressive in picking out detail in the least strenuous episodes.
Here are two tensile lyrical violin concertos continuing the romantic tradition yet without schmaltz.
Rob Barnett


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