William Schuman: The Symphonies

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Scott Paulin
A principal contender for the title of the "Great American Symphony," William Schuman's Third Symphony conveys a bold and original spirit. Whether or not it's essentially "American," it is indisputably "Great," with a unique approach that convincingly builds Baroque forms (passacaglia, fugue, chorale, and toccata) into a dramatically unified symphonic logic. On record, the Schuman Third has long been the property of Leonard Bernstein; his two recordings of the work contributed much to making it the best known of Schuman's ten symphonies. Gerard Schwarz's new version, however, comes in the third volume of much-needed survey of the complete Schuman symphonies, and it's a ...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Scott Paulin
A principal contender for the title of the "Great American Symphony," William Schuman's Third Symphony conveys a bold and original spirit. Whether or not it's essentially "American," it is indisputably "Great," with a unique approach that convincingly builds Baroque forms (passacaglia, fugue, chorale, and toccata) into a dramatically unified symphonic logic. On record, the Schuman Third has long been the property of Leonard Bernstein; his two recordings of the work contributed much to making it the best known of Schuman's ten symphonies. Gerard Schwarz's new version, however, comes in the third volume of much-needed survey of the complete Schuman symphonies, and it's a more than viable alternative to Bernstein. If anything, the Seattle Symphony succeeds even better than its predecessors in fitting Schuman's jagged, interlocking lines together into a whole, and the music's brassy climaxes are as sonorous as they need to be (even if the snare drum's rim shots in the finale sound curiously underpowered). While the Third has been newly recorded for Schwarz's Schuman series, the other works on this disc have been recycled from an early-1990s release on Delos by the same conductor and orchestra. (At that time, they were part of a valuable American music series, similar to Naxos's current American Classics project but much smaller in scope.) The Symphony for Strings (Schuman's Fifth) and the ballet score Judith (composed for Martha Graham's choreography) are both among the composer's most significant and absorbing works, each combining vital energy and grave solemnity into a compelling whole. Schuman's public roles as president of the Juilliard School and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts may have conspired to overshadow his creative work in later years, but each of these Naxos releases from Seattle is a reminder of this major American artist's true originality.
All Music Guide
These recordings of William Schuman's "Seventh" and "Tenth" symphonies by Gerard Schwarz conducting the Seattle Symphony are neither the works' first recordings nor, perhaps, their best recordings, but they are still absolutely worthy recordings that deserve to be heard by anyone who loves American symphonic music of the twentieth century. The "Seventh" has been recorded before by Lorin Maazel with the Pittsburgh and Maurice Abravanel with the Utah Symphony, but Schwarz's sympathetic interpretation and the Seattle's dedicated professionalism make as good or better a case for the piece as either of them. The "Tenth" has been recorded before by Leonard Slatkin with the St. Louis in a performance of tremendous depth and power and if Schwarz and the Seattle don't quite match them for power, the lyrical intensity of their performance easily puts them in the same league. As for sound, while Maazel's "Seventh" is a little too distant, Abravanel's is way too distant, and Slatkin's is nearly ideal, Schwarz's is not quite as distant as Maazel's, but not as balanced as Slatkin's.
All Music Guide
This disc forms part of a complete series of symphonies by William Schuman underway at the capable hands of the Seattle Symphony and its conductor, Gerard Schwarz (except perhaps for the youthful first and second symphonies, which haven't yet appeared and which the composer disowned). Schuman was one of those composers mostly forgotten during the rule of the modernist nomenklatura, and the Naxos series, picking up from a Schuman disc Schwarz recorded for Delos, is most welcome. Schwarz's rather deadpan approach is probably best suited to works like the "Symphony No. 6," composed in 1948. This dense work is in a single movement of about a half hour, consisting of six sections played without a break. Aside from tempo areas and the fact that the first and last sections seem to have introductory and concluding functions, it's rather tough going to determine what holds the music together. But the work has a dark, intense quality that seems to look back to wartime. " A Prayer in Time of War," from 1943, is a lyrical yet taut piece that deserves substitution for the patriotic standards by Copland and others. The final "New England Triptych," a set of short orchestral movements based on pieces by the dean of early American composers, William Billings, makes for a rousing conclusion, although the finale, an elaboration of "Chester" ("Let tyrants shake their iron rods, and slavery clank her galling chains"), is a bit less rousing here than it could be. The "New England Triptych" was recorded in 1990 in a different location (the Seattle Opera House) from the first two works, and sonically it is also a bit of a letdown. But lovers of the rich and still underappreciated tradition of American symphonic music of the middle twentieth century will want to have this release, helmed by one of the repertory's most energetic champions on the podium.
All Music Guide
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.

This disc forms part of a complete series of symphonies by William Schuman underway at the capable hands of the Seattle Symphony and its conductor, Gerard Schwarz (except perhaps for the youthful first and second symphonies, which haven't yet appeared and which the composer disowned). Schuman was one of those composers mostly forgotten during the rule of the modernist nomenklatura, and the Naxos series, picking up from a Schuman disc Schwarz recorded for Delos, is most welcome. Schwarz's rather deadpan approach is probably best suited to works like the "Symphony No. 6," composed in 1948. This dense work is in a single movement of about a half hour, consisting of six sections played without a break. Aside from tempo areas and the fact that the first and last sections seem to have introductory and concluding functions, it's rather tough going to determine what holds the music together. But the work has a dark, intense quality that seems to look back to wartime. " A Prayer in Time of War," from 1943, is a lyrical yet taut piece that deserves substitution for the patriotic standards by Copland and others. The final "New England Triptych," a set of short orchestral movements based on pieces by the dean of early American composers, William Billings, makes for a rousing conclusion, although the finale, an elaboration of "Chester" ("Let tyrants shake their iron rods, and slavery clank her galling chains"), is a bit less rousing here than it could be. The "New England Triptych" was recorded in 1990 in a different location (the Seattle Opera House) from the first two works, and sonically it is also a bit of a letdown. But lovers of the rich and still underappreciated tradition of American symphonic music of the middle twentieth century will want to have this release, helmed by one of the repertory's most energetic champions on the podium.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 7/27/2010
  • Label: Naxos
  • UPC: 747313522835
  • Catalog Number: 8505228
  • Sales rank: 151,030

Tracks

Disc 1
  1. 1 Symphony No. 4 - William Schuman & Vance Kirkland (24:51)
  2. 2 The Orchestra Song, for orchestra - William Schuman & Vance Kirkland (3:00)
  3. 3 Circus Overture, for orchestra (also version for concert band arr. by D. Owen) - William Schuman & Vance Kirkland (7:51)
  4. 4 Symphony No. 9 - William Schuman & Vance Kirkland (27:38)
  5. 5 Symphony No. 7 - William Schuman & Gerard Schwarz (29:00)
  6. 6 Symphony No. 10 -- American Muse - William Schuman & Gerard Schwarz (31:42)
  7. 7 Symphony No. 3 - William Schuman & Gerard Schwarz (27:32)
  8. 8 Symphony No. 5 ("Symphony for Strings") - William Schuman & Gerard Schwarz (17:54)
  9. 9 Judith, ballet ("choreographic poem") - William Schuman & Gerard Schwarz (22:14)
  10. 10 New England Triptych, 3 pieces for orchestra or band - William Schuman & Gerard Schwarz (16:01)
  11. 11 A Prayer in Time of War, for orchestra - William Schuman & Gerard Schwarz (15:35)
  12. 12 Symphony No. 6 - William Schuman & Gerard Schwarz (29:11)
  13. 13 Variations on "America", arrangement for orchestra or band (after Charles Ives) - Charles Ives & William Schuman (7:04)
  14. 14 Night Journey, ballet - William Schuman & Gerard Schwarz (25:27)
  15. 15 Symphony No. 8 - William Schuman & Gerard Schwarz (32:29)
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Album Credits

Performance Credits
Gerard Schwarz Primary Artist
Seattle Symphony Orchestra Primary Artist
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