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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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William SCHUMAN (1910-1992)
Symphony No. 3 (1941) [27:28]
Symphony No. 5 Symphony for Strings (1943) [17:54]
Judith (1949) [22:22]
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
rec. S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA, Sept. 2005 (3); Seattle Center Opera House, Jan. 1991 (5); Jan. 1992 (Judith). DDD.
NAXOS 8.559317 [67:44]


This recording of Schwarz’s version of the kinetically charged Schuman Third Symphony is projected with tremendous power. I rate this as amongst the most powerful works of the mid-20th century. Its war-time origins are consonant with both its primal violence and its soulfulness. While it has a steely and irresistibly euphoric joy in power it does not lack for elegiac substance. We can hear this in the throbbing Tallis-like singing of the strings in the Chorale. While it wants that last ounce of quasi-hysteria to be heard in Bernstein’s still glorious 1960s version it is accorded a natural sounding yet potent recording.  Bernstein’s better recorded 1980s Third is available on a DG set (see review). His unmissable 1960-session Third is on a very desirable Sony CD (see review) if you can find a copy. However Schwarz’s is no mere stop-gap as the squat brass, jazzy and ruthless syncopation, gun-shot side drum ‘rounds’ and thrumming strings of the final five minutes of the Toccata instantly proclaim. Just superb! The rest is just as good.
 
The Symphony for Strings is in an idiom similar to that of the Third and has that same blood-rush. The string choirs are presented here with sonorous power from top to bass. One gains the sense of a nation’s soul at song and of boundless and bounding energy. Alongside this there is always an exciting and yielding humanity that often eludes composers such as Markevitch and Mossolov.
 
Schuman wrote Judith for a Martha Graham commission. The ballet was performed by Graham with the Louisville Orchestra conducted by Robert Whitney on 4 January 1950. They recorded it in 1972 (see review). What we now hear on this recording amounts to vintage Schuman in the manner of the Third Symphony but discursive and without the unrelenting grip the earlier work exerts.
 
The useful notes are by Steven Lowe.
 
This is now the third Naxos disc of Schuman symphonies: (4 & 9 - see review; 7 & 10 - see review). That leaves only 6 and 8 to come; the first two symphonies were withdrawn but who knows these days …
 
Inexplicably the Bernstein-McInnes Concerto on Old English Rounds for viola, chorus and orchestra on a Columbia LP (M 35101) never made it to CD. I hope that it has not fallen into the same seemingly irreversible vinyl oblivion as Tilson Thomas’s complete recording of the Ruggles orchestral music; that was also on CBS-Sony.
 
Wonderfully intense and luminous playing from the Seattle Orchestra. These are fine readings and the disc is made by the first modern recording of the Third Symphony in quite some time. Who knows, perhaps one of these days we will hear it live.
 
Rob Barnett

Editor's Note: The Symphony 5 and Judith on this disc are remastered versions of the recordings originally released on Delos DE3115 in the early 1990s.

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