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
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
Symphony was relentlessly
popular among the celebrity conductors of US metropolitan
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
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.