Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony’s survey of William Schuman’s complete published symphonies has been packaged and is in stores now in a convenient boxed set (Naxos, 8.505228). This is a set that is years in the making. I picked up the first few disks for pennies when the Queen Anne Tower Records was clearing out its stock at least three years ago.
The Third Symphony is especially good. Recorded in 2005, it benefits from improved sound over Leonard Bernstein’s version with the New York Philharmonic. I gave both recordings a listen in advance of this year’s season ending performance of the piece this year. Schwarz’s recording of the piece gets a thumbs up from me. It is a more focused performance than Bernstein’s. This helps listeners swim rather than slog through Schuman’s complicated textures.
The other symphonies come off just as well. For me the shorter orchestral works are the real discoveries, causing me to wonder why these works aren’t performed more often. Orchestra Song (which I am listening to right now) is a charming three minute work featuring every section of the orchestra including a wonderful trumpet solo by (I am assuming) David Gordon. A new recording of the Violin Concerto would have been a nice addition too.
The set is nicely packaged and nicely priced, though the documentation is limited to the notes that came with the original CD’s. Would it have been too much to ask of Naxos to include an essay or statement from Schwarz on why Schuman’s music means so much to him?