There comes a fine sentiment attached to this recording: its dedication to the late Audrey Kaufmann, Board leader for the Albany Symphony Orchestra, who pioneered the musical organization’s dedication to living American composers. Ms. Kaufmann particularly favored the music of William Schuman (1910-1992), whose creative output places him among America’s most prolific symphonists. Many recall his seventeen-year leadership at the Juilliard School. The 1955 Credendum is a three-movement work, alternately brassy and elegiac. The opening Declaration, rife with brass and double basses, pours from the various sides of your sound system in single-note titanium. The Chorale movement swells to some emotional resolve, then the final Presto reworks motifs from Declaration at the end of an energetic scherzo. The strings and twittering flutes in surround sound, followed by the plucked strings, urge a bucolic effect – a serenely visionary landscape filled with shimmering, Whitmanesque promise.
Schuman’s Piano Concerto (1943) received its debut with Rosalyn Tureck and Daniel Saidenberg and takes its cue from Stravinsky, maintaining a Spartan texture and a brittle, nervous energy, softened in the first movement by a meditative episode for piano, trumpet, and winds. The cadenza passages provides nocturne in the midst of declamatory outbursts. John McCabe, who made a lasting contribution with his Haydn survey, adds a hearty, percussive color to the mix. A languorous blues colors the middle movement, maybe background music for Henry Fonda’s last soliloquy in The Grapes of Wrath. Flute and violins, along with block chords in the piano carry the sighs forward. The Bach-like figure which opens the last movement obviously appealed to Tureck, especially as the material is ripe for the kind of fugal treatment Schumann relishes. The dark strings make an effective sonic counterpoint as well.
The Fourth Symphony (1942), dedicated to Artur Rodzinski, may have some wartime sentiments, but movement toward C Major affirmation cancels its otherwise Shostakovich-like gloom, the persistent, angular anxiety that runs through the piece. Wonderful instrumental pairings, like English horn and kettledrum, color the score, which is energetic and lithe. Schuman’s penchant for string fugue places him up there with David Diamond as our leading masters of brilliant, slashing counterpoint. The middle movement, marked “Tenderly, simply,” communicates a stately poise in contrast to a sea of troubles. The Albany Symphony gives the music the kind of TLC that American ensembles bestow on opera dear to their hearts.