Ives Variations on America; Schuman Violin Concerto; New England Triptych
In his own CD booklet-note Serebrier says it was Stokowski who introduced him to the music of William Schuman via his orchestration of Ives’s organ piece, Variations on ‘America’ – the tune otherwise known as ‘God save the Queen’. It would be tragic if Schuman became best-known for doing so effectively for this piece what Ravel once did for Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, since he was a fine composer of symphonies especially and of chamber music.
The rediscovery here is the Violin Concerto. It went through various revisions, which could have been a weakness. The first version was launched by Isaac Stern in 1950; he played the second six years later; and the final version was given by Roman Totenberg in 1959. Paul Zukofsky and the Boston SO under Tilson Thomas made the first recording in 1971 (DG, 1/91 – nla).
The work is in two substantial movements both showing Schuman’s own kind of exuberant energy with brass and percussion as well as a special mystical stillness in soft music. The soloist plunges in right at the start of the first movement; there’s an oasis of calm at 4'24; and a sprawling cadenza of nearly three minutes from 9'45. The second movement has an aggressive start which clears the way for the delayed entry of the soloist. Again there’s lyrical rapture as well as fireworks and – another Schuman fingerprint – a fugato from 4'24.
Philip Quint, the Russian-born American violinist, is making his debut on CD. It’s a very capable performance in every way – look out for him again. Schuman’s New England Triptych, based on three hymns by the first prominent American pioneer-composer, William Billings, is one of his most familiar pieces, well represented on CD. The Variations on ‘America’ – sending up the USA, royalty or both – ensures that this useful Schuman package ends with a good laugh