Gerard Schwarz / Seattle Symphony Orchestra

William Schuman: Symphony No. 6; Prayer in a Time of War; New England Triptych

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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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