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American Classics: William Schuman CD

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x99783870) out of 5 stars 1 review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99787abc) out of 5 stars Two lesser-known but lyrical violin concertos from American composers 18 Feb. 2014
By Phil (not) in Mågnoliá - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This EMI recording, issued as part of their new American Classics series, is a direct re-issue of William Schuman: Concerto for Violin & Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein: Serenade for Violin, String Orchestra, Harp & Percussion (after Plato's "Symposium") originally issued in 1989 and still available here on Amazon from third party sellers.

This is music off the beaten path for most classical enthusiasts, still well worth exploring. It is also an unusual coupling of two works that would normally be found issued separately and combined with more popular pieces on CD.

Schuman's Violin Concerto was originally written in three movements and released in 1947, and then subsequently revised at least twice, with the final two-movement form issued in 1959 (I believe that wiki is incorrect in giving the final date as 1957-58, the 1959 date is what I've seen written in several places and is what the William Schuman website states for the work in its list of Schuman's complete works). The first performance of the final version of the work was by Roman Totenberg at the Aspen Festival in Colorado, in 1959. It has been described as a "blackly dramatic" and "powerfully expressive", and begins with a strong and rythmically angular opening section, with the soloist immediately introducing the primary motif. It is a rewarding work given the proper performance, and to date I am aware of only a small number of recordings that have been made available. They are (in order of original release and including the recording here under review):

- Paul Zukofsky on violin, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Recorded in October, 1970 and originally released by Deutsche Grammophon in 1971, this may have been the first recording to be made of the Schuman Violin Concerto (a recording by Isaac Stern is mentioned on the back of the CD case of the EMI release but I've not been able to locate it). Zukofsky's performance has long been considered to be a sensational one. It can be difficult to find but is available here on Amazon from third party sellers or as a digital download Schuman: Violin Concerto. This performance is also available on youtube.

- Robert McDuffie on violin, with Leonard Slatkin conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Originally released in 1989, McDuffie fails to equal the performance of Zukofsky but is capable and gives a good interpretation. (recording on this page)

- Philippe Quint on violin, with José Serebrier conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. This 2000 recording has been very well received by critics, and was nominated for the 2001 Grammy Awards for "Best Orchestral Performance" and "Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (with Orchestra)." It is listed by both Penguin and Gramophone as the current recommended choice for Schuman's Violin Concerto. This performance can also be found on youtube.

Bernstein's Serenade is composed in five movements, titled "Serenade after Plato's Symposium" and contains some quite gorgeous music. The piece requires exceptional skill on the part of the violin soloist, and there are several excellent performances available:

- Zino Francescatti, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic - this recording, made in the 1960's and still available in the most recent Sony release, is probably the most well-known and virtuosic, even though it has been supplanted by the two following recordings in many critics recommendations.

- Hilary Hahn on violin, with David Zinman conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra - excellent performance, recommended (along with the following by Perlman) by both Penguin and Gramophone. Coupled with an excellent performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

- Itzhak Perlman on violin, with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra - an excellent recording (I have a copy of this CD myself), with the Bernstein Serenade along with the Barber Violin Concerto and Three American Pieces by Lukas Foss. Titled "American Album", this recording, along with the previous Hahn performance, is recommended by both Penguin and Gramophone.

The recording on this page with McDuffie on violin probably does not merit top recommendation for either piece, given the other choices available as described above, which are generally considered preferable by more knowledgeable critics. But for those who have neither of these pieces in their collection, it does provide the opportunity to get both on one CD, and the performances are good if not outstanding. In the Amazon system of reviewing, 3-stars designates "It's okay", 4-stars "I like it", and 5-stars "I love it". I've decided to rate this CD 4-stars; I might normally give it 3-stars, but there is also a need to balance the unfairly poor rating given by an earlier reviewer here on Amazon.
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