When it comes to American music, it doesn't get much more American than this recording of four works by William Schuman with Leonard Slatkin conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. It starts with Schuman's cheerful American Festival Overture, continues with his almost-but-not-quite variations on hymn tunes by William Billings (New England Triptych), continues with his almost-but-not-quite sober orchestration of Ives' Variations on "America," and ends with his last, and by all means best, of his symphonies, the Tenth, subtitled "American Music." The tunes, the rhythms, the colors, the shapes, and most of all the spirit of the music is wholly and completely American: full of enthusiasm, idealism, romanticism, and most of all with the reckless energy of America at the first peak of its power.
Schuman's orchestral music in particular, like American orchestral music in general, could wish for no better advocate than Leonard Slatkin. Although not as ebullient as Bernstein or elegant as Schippers, Slatkin's more measured and more magisterial approach to conducting almost always elevates the music he conducts. In this 1992, Slatkin and his St. Louis Symphony give a rousing performance of the American Festival Overture, an affectionate performance of the New England Triptych, a carousing performance of Variations on "America," and a deeply moving performance of the Tenth. The St. Louis plays as well or better than on most of its recordings with Slatkin and RCA's digital sound is clear, clean, and vivid.