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Alan SHULMAN (1915-2002)

Theme and Variations (1940)a
Rendezvous (1946)b
A Nocturne (1938)c
Hatikvah (1949, arr. Shulman)d
Waltzes for Orchestra (1949)e
A Laurentian Overture (1951)f
Minuet for Moderns (1954)g
The Bop Gavotte (1954)g
Emanuel Vardi (viola)a; Alfredo Gallodoro (clarinet)b; NBC Symphony Orchestraabcdef; NBC Concert Orchestrag; Frank Blacka, Samuel Antekb, Milton Katimsce, Leonard Bernsteind, Guido Cantellif, Don Gillisg
Recorded: March 1941 (Theme and Variations), December 1946 (Rendezvous), October 1948 (A Nocturne), April 1949 (Hatikvah), October 1949 (Waltzes), March 1952 (A Laurentian Overture) and July 1954 (Minuet, The Bop Gavotte)
BRIDGE 9119 [48:23]

 

Alan Shulman was trained as a cellist and studied with Felix Salmond and Emanuel Feuermann. He also studied composition with Bernard Wagenaar and Paul Hindemith. As a professional cellist he played in the NBC Symphony Orchestra until 1954 and was a co-founder (among others, with his brother Sylvan) of the Stuyvesant Quartet. He stayed with the Sylvan from 1938 to 1954. He was a member of the Kreiner String Quartet from 1935 to 1938. Later he played with the Philharmonic Trio (from 1962 to 1969) and with the Haydn Quartet (from 1972 to 1982). He also found time for extensive teaching, composing and arranging activity. Besides a number of lighter works, some of which are represented here, he composed several large-scale and substantial works such as a Cello Concerto written in 1948 for Leonard Rose who premiered it with the New York Philharmonic under Mitropoulos.

A number of his works have been regularly played and broadcast throughout the United States, generally played either by the NBC Symphony Orchestra or the NBC Concert Orchestra. The present disc features several orchestral works written between 1938 and 1954 of which the most substantial is undoubtedly his Theme and Variations for viola and orchestra which was first performed by Emanuel Vardi and the pianist Vivian Rivkin. Toscanini was present at the first performance and thought highly of the piece, which probably encouraged Shulman to orchestrate it. The orchestral version was again first performed by Vardi with the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frank Black. This piece also impressed William Primrose who put it in his repertoire and even toured North and South America with it in 1944-1946. In 1954 Shulman made another version for viola, harp and strings which he is said to have preferred to the full orchestral version heard here. In any case, this is a wonderful piece of music, sometimes redolent of Bloch, that has apparently remained a favourite with violists since there exist two modern recordings of it (in 1989 by Crystal Records and, as recently as 2000, by Cedille), neither of which I have heard.

Most other pieces here are comparatively short and generally lighter in mood. All are superbly crafted by a composer who obviously had a thorough knowledge of the orchestra (from the inside, as it were) and who knows what to say and how to say it best. The somewhat earlier A Nocturne for Strings, completed in 1938, is a more serious work which inevitably calls Barber’s popular Adagio for Strings to mind. I hasten to say, that this is an entirely personal piece in its own right. Though it has been recorded before, in 1945, and later released as a 10 inch LP issued by Columbia, this really beautiful work has remained too rarely heard since. This old though still quite satisfying recording will help restoring it to the catalogue and prompt new recordings. It clearly deserves to be as popular as Barber’s piece.

Benny Goodman invited the Stuyvesant Quartet to be "Homecoming Stars", a weekly feature of his summer radio program. He wanted to perform a movement from Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet with them. Shulman was not willing to make a long trip to play just five minutes of Mozart and he decided to compose a short work for clarinet and string quartet Rendezvous with Benny which later became Rendezvous for Clarinet and Strings which is what we hear on this disc.

In 1949, the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein performed at a dinner in honour of the President of Israel. Both The Star-Spangled Banner and Hatikvah were to be performed, the latter in an arrangement by Kurt Weill to which Bernstein objected. Shulman offered to make a new arrangement for the event. The attractive and brilliantly orchestrated Waltzes for Orchestra also date from 1949. Lighter stuff, surely, but superbly done and well worth hearing. This is light music of the highest order as is the fine A Laurentian Overture of 1951. Shulman sent the score to Cantelli who commented favourably upon it and decided to programme it at the New York Philharmonic concerts. He conducted the first performance with the Philharmonic in 1952. This short piece is another brilliant display of effective scoring. The music has a great freshness and moves along in an overtly outdoor mood. Very enjoyable, and one can but wonder why music such as this has completely disappeared from the repertoire.

In 1954 Shulman composed a series of short light works for string orchestra, of which two are recorded here: Minuet for Moderns and The Bop Gavotte. The titles are clear enough and do not call for many further comments. This is the kind of stuff that might feature in American String Miniatures, if such a disc was ever to appear some day. Delightful, unpretentious and again superbly crafted music of great melodic appeal, with more than a touch of humour.

Shulman’s music is new to me. Listening to this beautifully produced disc made me wonder at the complete neglect in which his music is presently held. This disc will put his name again in the catalogue and hopefully prompt conductors and recording companies to look at it again. These old recordings inevitably bear their age but the recorded sound is more than acceptable throughout, so that one has a reasonably good idea of what Shulman’s music sounds like.

Hubert Culot



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