Gerard Schwarz / Seattle Symphony Orchestra

William Schuman: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 5

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Like the symphonies of fellow American composers Roy Harris and Aaron Copland, William Schuman's most celebrated is his Third Symphony (1941), and it is the most frequently programmed and recorded of the cycle of 10. Perhaps best known from two impressive recordings by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (1960 for Columbia and 1985 for Deutsche Grammophon), this work has indeed become a classic, though it is cited more often in textbooks than heard in concert. Yet because of its transparent structures -- updated Baroque forms, such as the passacaglia, fugue, chorale, and toccata -- and because of its resilient and highly memorable themes, this cogent work is likely to engage serious listeners for many years to come, and continue to be performed by conductors who still value the American populist symphonies of the mid-twentieth century. Gerard Schwarz is conscientious in recording such works with the Seattle Symphony for Naxos, and this 2005 account of the Symphony No. 3 is of a high caliber; in lieu of having either of Bernstein's landmark recordings, Schwarz's is certainly a solid second choice, even if it is not quite as commanding or exciting. However, the Symphony No. 5 for strings (1943), and the choreographic poem Judith (1949) are infrequently played and much less familiar than the Symphony No. 3, and Schwarz's recordings are somewhat stuffy sounding reissues from a 1992 Delos release. Though these works are valuable examples of Schuman's development and have some compelling passages, they may strike some listeners as respectable but longwinded pieces, and non-essential filler at that. Naxos provides extraordinary reproduction on the Symphony No. 3, though the recordings of the remaining works appear not to be remastered.

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