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William SCHUMAN (1910-1992)
Credendum - Article of Faith (1955) [17:43]
Piano Concerto (1943) [30:53]
Symphony No. 4 (1942) [23:35]
John McCabe (piano)
Albany Symphony Orchestra/David Alan Miller
rec. 16 Mar 2002 (4), 18 Nov 2001 (Concerto); 20 Mar 2000 (Sym), Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, NY. DDD 


Miller and the
Albany orchestra continue their invaluable work for the eminent statesmen of North American music. Their fine Creston disc (Symphony 4 etc) is now joined by a compatible SACD of Schuman's orchestral music. I listened to this through a conventional CD set-up.

Schuman always leaves the listener convinced that he has had something significant to say. True this is sometimes at the expense of a certain portentousness but it is serious music-making and no mistake.

Credendum (Article of Faith) is typically statuesque, gnomic and haughty in the manner of Copland's theatrical preliminaries in Fanfare for the Common Man and Lincoln Portrait and the cold fanfares of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex. The work is in three movements each progressively longer. After the granitic grandiloquence of the Declaration comes a more string-centred and lyrical Chorale after which the presto Finale is taut and skippingly urgent. Much use is made of pizzicato before the oratory of the Declaration returns gradually spun in above long singing lyrical lines of a type that scorches and heals its way through the Chorale and the Third Symphony. The piece ends with one of Schuman's trademark howlingly triumphant  swoops of trumpets amid volleying tattoos of percussion. Grand or what! This is a stirring performance and one that can comfortably stand in the company of the classic Ormandy/Philadelphia version in mono dating from the year after its composition (see review).

Credendum (‘That which must be believed’) was a UNESCO commission. The premiere was given by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thor Johnson on 4 November 1955

By contrast the Piano Concerto is a lighter effort with single woodwind, two horns and trumpets and a single trombone with strings. The effect, unlike the magnificent 1947 Violin Concerto, is intimate and of chamber character. The still, even chilly, heart of the piece is the central episode. John McCabe puts across the work's tenderness as well as it occasional Prokofiev-clear aggression. The finale has a piquant motoric classical flavour and there are some sparkling asides as at 2:43. In this work one may draw mood parallels with Schumann's British counterpart Alan Rawsthorne - a composer also committedly championed by McCabe.

Schuman wrote ten symphonies though he disowned the first two. The symphonies 3, 4, 5 and 6 date from 1941, 1941, 1942 and 1948. The music of the Fourth Symphony is sombre and grave and clearly tackles the eternal verities. It is a work that concerns itself with life and death struggles. It does this in no luxurious Scriabinesque way. Schuman drives forward, at times with the relentlessness of his contemporary Shostakovich. The first movement rises from the creation of whispered tension to an indomitable tread and onwards to blasting climaxes. A yielding song emerges carried by confiding sweet-sorrowing violins in the Tenderly simply movement. There is a Tippett-like songfulness in the finale (00.31 onwards) but many of these gestures recall Shostakovich. (1.10 and 1.22). The work is none the worse for that and we must remember that at the time the Leningrad Symphony was relentlessly popular among the celebrity conductors of US metropolitan orchestras.

While the execution and recording are noticeably better in the Albany version the ceaseless beat, coherence and muscularity of the symphony communicates better in the Louisville recording on First Edition (see review). That's an old 1960s recording but certainly not to be written off and the same goes for the Naxos version conducted by Schwarz (see review).

The Fourth Symphony was premiered by the dedicatees Artur Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra on 22 January 1942, a few weeks after Pearl Harbour.

This is a disc that belongs in the collection of every enthusiast of American twentieth century music. Credendum is outstanding both as a piece and as a performance. Although less imposing, the Piano Concerto makes a fascinating contrast. As for the Fourth Symphony it is a degree or two cooler than Mester's on First Edition but it delivers a much more polished and better recorded effect.

Rob Barnett


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