- Variations on "America", arrangement for orchestra or band (after Charles Ives) - William Schuman - Charles Ives - Gerard Schwarz - Seattle Symphony Orchestra
- Night Journey, ballet - William Schuman - Gerard Schwarz - Seattle Symphony Orchestra
- Symphony No. 8 - William Schuman - Gerard Schwarz - Seattle Symphony Orchestra
William Schuman: Symphony No. 8; Night Journey; Variations on 'America'by Seattle Symphony Orchestra
The recovery of William Schuman's symphonies by the Naxos label, in the hands of the Seattle Symphony and conductor Gerard Schwarz, has been nowhere less than worthwhile. The "Symphony No. 8" recorded here dates from 1962, just before the mid-century American style of which Schuman was a major exponent began to crack up. It's a dark work that builds up tension over two movements of mostly slow material, punctuated only by short, exclamation-like passages, and the Presto finale has a fatalist feel. The orchestrational genius -- and genius is the right word -- for which Schuman was known is in abundance here, however, and Schuman had a very large canvas to work on. The symphony was premiered at Lincoln Center by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, and the entire back bench was brought on-stage for an orchestra of Mahlerian dimensions. As with Mahler, it's rare that the entire orchestra is used at once. Of the many unique combinations that pass by, note as just one example the harp-brass accompanimental combinations in the first movement that sound like some kind of unearthly giant guitar. The following "Night Journey" (1947) is similar in tone but more loosely narrative in its structure, probably to its detriment. Schuman's familiar orchestration of Charles Ives' "Variations on America" rounds out the program with an increase in energy level. This performance was recorded in 1991, in a different location than the other two pieces (which date from 2008 and 2007, respectively), and it's not sonically of a piece with the rest of the recording. But the Seattle Symphony does consistently well by this difficult music. Recommended for those who like to immerse themselves in a complex orchestral score and don't much care if it lets very little light in.
- Release Date:
- Naxos American
Performance CreditsSeattle Symphony Orchestra Primary Artist
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This is the final CD in the Naxos series dedicated to the symphonic music of William Schuman, and is a fitting wrap-up. This is a major body of work from a major American composer as well as a rewarding look into history. Schuman's style expresses a uniquely American quality from a specific time in the cultural history of this country; it's an expansive sound, tonal but not simplistic, and full of determination, confidence and strength. There's a mix of toughness and tenderness that is invigorating and appealing. The 8th is one of his most powerful works, dark-hued and intense. Leonard Bernstein gave the premiere in 1962 as part of the inauguration of Lincoln Center, and until now the brilliant Bernstein recording was the only one available. That is a great recording, forceful and brilliantly played, and this new one from Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony is its equal. These musicians have specialized in American music in their previous recordings for Delos and now Naxos, but that doesn't begin to described how accomplished they are and how good they sound in all repertoire. They play Schuman with a great balance of refinement and strength. On a purely superficial, sonic level, this recording seems subdued at first, but that's misleading. From the uncanny opening chord, Schwartz balances orchestral colors to an exceptional degree, his Schuman doesn't sound much like Bernstein's Schuman, but it does sound ideal. He also takes a subtle and effective approach to conveying the intensity of the work; the common approach is to articulate notes and phrases with a rather aggressive opening attack, but Schwartz and the orchestra hold back the force a bit and instead carry a great deal of expressive focus and emotional weight in their sound. You can feel the sensation of intense ideas building up in every chord and phrase. This slight understatement on the surface coupled with intensity underneath is a very American sound. Everything is here; lyricism, energy, clear-eyed determination. The additional Night Journey is an ideal companion. It's a dramatic tone-poem from 1947, and has some of the same expressive qualities although less of the intellectual rigor of the Symphony. Schuman's popular arrangement of Charles Ives' Variations on 'America,' re-issued from one of the previous Delos recordings, closes out the disc. The sound is full and gorgeous, typical of recordings made in Benoya Hall. This is an excellent recording of excellent music, a vital contribution to the legacy of a great American composer and to Naxos' American Classics series.