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William SCHUMAN (1910-1992)
Symphony No. 4 (1941) • [25:18]
(I. [8:46]; II. [8:39]; III. [7:47])
Prayer in Time of War (1943) • [15:00]
Judith (Choreographic Poem for Orchestra) (1949) [19:09]
(I Adagio [4:40]; II. Moderato [3:26]; III. Tranquillo [2:04]; IV. Presto [5:54]; V. Andante - Coda [3:04])
Louisville Orchestra/Robert S. Whitney, Jorge Mester,
Recorded: 1959, 1968, 1972, Louisville, Kentucky
Executive producer: Matthew Walters
Original supervising producer: Howard Scott
Annotation: James M. Keller, Robert McMahan, William Schuman
Partial funding by Aaron Copland Fund for Music and National Endowment for the Arts.

  • world premiere recordings


When first issued the Louisville Edition would often mix and match two composers on each album. Matthew Walters’ First Edition label adopts a more logical and satisfying approach for the most part gathering together the various Louisville tapes on a single-composer. This William Schuman disc uses analogue tapes from 1959, 1968 and 1972. The tapes are in good fettle.

The Fourth Symphony had a very hard act to follow. After all, the Third is one of the most impressive - even awesome - symphonies of the 1940s. It was completed a few months after completion of the Third. The premiere was given in January by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodzinski. After a troubled and typically tumultuous first movement comes a second movement lento with more repose than you find anywhere in the Third. That consolatory, restful quality is eight parts Barber Adagio and two parts chilly-haunted. The bustlingly busy third movement bears the sardonic quality of Shostakovich far more than anything in the Third. Those desperately energetic, exultant pizzicato - so much a Schuman hallmark - also appear here. What a fine and serious composer Schuman is. There is a gravity and greatness about his writing that places him at least in the company of Bernstein and Barber and possibly more. Mester has a good feeling for the music and the recording sounds very good and the only downside is a hint of razz and steel in the violins. The Prayer in Time of War can be grouped with the Third and Fourth Symphonies and the rarely heard secular cantata A Free Song setting poems from Whitman’s Drum Taps (compare similar contemporary settings by Randall Thompson and Howard Hanson). As expected this is a powerful invocatory piece not at all brazenly victorious nor especially confident. Foreboding, supplication, and an understated gritty determination are the order of the day. The five movement Choreographic Poem - Judith came at the end of the 1940s. It was a Louisville commission and its premiere was given there with Martha Graham in January 1950. The style is now noticeably more explosively fragmentary than in the other two works on the disc and yet this is still noticeably the same man who wrote the coruscatingly violent Third Symphony and the belligerent and poetic Violin Concerto - both confident masterpieces in their own right.

Jorge Mester conducts for the Symphony and the Prayer - both taken down in good stereo. The Whitney Judith is in vivid mono from 1959.

The presence of this recording of the Fourth Symphony means that Schuman’s symphonies 3-8 are now easily accessible. If only BMG could be persuaded to couple the Ninth Fosse Ardeatine (Ormandy/Philadelphia, RCA) and Tenth (Slatkin/St Louis RCA) the sequence would be complete. The first two symphonies (1935, 1937) were withdrawn by the composer.

This disc represents the second time on CD for the tapes of the Prayer and the Symphony. In the late 1980s Albany Troy licensed several Louisville tapes and these two appeared on TROY027-2 in harness with Becker’s Third Symphony, Roy Harris’s march When Johnny Comes Marching Home and his JFK - Epilogue Profiles in Courage. Still a disc worth tracking down.

Judith has been recorded in stereo several times. It appears, conducted by David Effron with the Eastman Philharmonia, on an all-Schuman disc alongside In Sweet Music (1978) and that other Martha Graham score of the 1940s Night Journey. It is also on Composers Recordings Inc CRI CD791. Again this has been deleted but you may be able to find it on e-bay, There is also a Judith on a deleted Delos CD with the New England Triptych and Variations on America.

This CD offers vigorous and imaginatively vivid recordings of three representative and substantial scores by Schuman. Two of them are available only in this form. A very satisfying collection offering a classic Schuman anthology for the listener who wants to move on beyond the Third Symphony and who perhaps has discovered this composer from the Violin Concerto (Quint on Naxos or Zukofsky on DG), the Bernstein disc of Symphonies 3, 5 and 8 (Sony) or the more recent Bernstein Schuman 3 in the DG Bernstein and the Americans bargain box..

Rob Barnett

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