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William SCHUMAN (1910-1992)
Symphony No. 7 (1960) [28:57]
Symphony No. 10 American Muse (1976) [31:51]
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
rec. S Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA. Nov 2003 (7); Sept 2004 (10). DDD
NAXOS 8.559255 [60:48]

 

Schuman was one of the USA's most eminent symphonists. He deserves to be counted with Roy Harris, Paul Creston, David Diamond and Howard Hanson. His Third Symphony and Violin Concerto are works of instantly commanding mastery. Like Diamond he was unfairly seen as a bit of a 'suit' which is completely at odds with the uncompromisingly fierce intensity and even violence that runs through his music.

Both these symphonies have been recorded before but they have never sounded as good as they do here. This is only part of the story. In the case of the Seventh the typically explosive Vigoroso, while clearly powerful, lacks the feral attack of Abravanel in his Utah Symphony version now on Vox. The Schwarz reading is a mite more relaxed and less searing than the old 1977 Vox version. Things hot up for the Scherzando brioso but overall this is Schuman served up cooler than white hot.

The Tenth Symphony was recorded on a mid-1980s RCA disc deleted some years ago. That version was conducted by Leonard Slatkin. Once again the temperature is limited and although there is a gritty strength as in the con fuoco first movement. Much more successful is the Larghissimo - any Schuman largo is a potentially a force to be reckoned with - which has the same intense virtues as the parallel elegiac movement in the Ninth Symphony. The finale is invigoratingly brusque in Schuman's best toweringly colossal manner. More delicate is the bell-chiming wonderland (a little like Malcolm Arnold) that lies at the centre of the movement.

The Seventh was written as a Koussevitsky Foundation commission and was premiered by Charles Munch with the Boston Symphony on 21 October 1960.

The Tenth was written for the American Centennial in 1976 and was premiered by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antal Dorati. It is dedicated to our country's creative artists, past, present and future. The work owes its existence to the suggestion of the composer's wife that he should revisit for inspiration his early choral setting of Whitman's Pioneers! O Pioneers!

This disc joins the excellent first Naxos release which provided us with symphonies 4 (with many of the wartime strengths of the Third) and 9 Fosse Ardeatine.

While the spirit and sense of flowing inevitability of these interpretations does not stand full comparison with previous recordings the issue is largely academic as the alternatives cannot be easily chased down and these readings are by no means unsatisfying. As you would expect with Schwarz they breathe in the composer's inspiration.

Rob Barnett

 


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