ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
William Schuman - On Freedom's Ground

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WILLIAM SCHUMAN - On Freedom's Ground - Ian Hobson (Conductor) - Sinfonia da Camera - University of Illinois Chorale & Oratorio Society - Ingrid Kammin (Soprano) - Ricardo Herrera (Baritone) - 034061128021 - Released: July 2011 - Albany 1280

It is always encouraging and comforting to see classical music labels engaged and commited enough to actually still find the energy and devotion to release world première recordings, especially when all the major multi-national music corporations have all but given up on new projects, and keep serving us the same tepid dish day after day. Leave it to smaller independent labels like Albany Records to constantly thrive and search out new works by both known and not-so-well known composers. In this case an American composer of enormous stature, William Schuman (1910-1992). One of the 20th century's most important composers and arts administrators, William Schuman went from being a Tin Pan Alley song plugger to president of Lincoln Center. With the exception of the oft-recorded American Festival Overture (one of Leonard Bernstein's favorite showpieces) and A Free Song: Secular Cantata No. 2, there are two world première recordings on this new CD. Prelude and On Freedom's Ground, all of which capture the many facets of this creative composer, who exerted a major force on the direction of 20th century orchestral music. I myself have always considered his Violin Concerto to be one of the most powerful works ever written.

British born pianist and conductor Ian Hobson's take on the American Festival Overture may not possess Bernstein's muscular swagger and upbeat New York defiance, but it still manages to convey the work's overall spirit. I believe that in order for any musician to fully grasp the essence of a work like this, they need to have grown up on the downtown streets of a large American city. Also unfortunate is the fact that the Sinfonia da Camera, founded in 1984 by Ian Hobson himself, is simply not large enough an ensemble to bully its way through a piece like this one. But hey, this is not the main attraction on this new recording anyway. The world première recordings are why you need to have this CD in your collection.

Works like Prelude for Full Chorus of Mixed Voices with Soprano and On Freedom's Ground: An American Cantata for Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra, composed for the commemoration of the Statue of Liberty Centennial in 1986, demonstrate that William Schuman was just as adept writing for the human voice as he was writing for instrumental forces. The vocal lines are laid out to serve the poetry's meaning, and various techniques, from whispers to glorious shouts, are judiciously used to emphasize the message within the written text. Soprano Ingrid Kammin and baritone Ricardo Herrera both deliver commited accounts of these difficult works, and although suffering at times from a lapse in ensemble balance, the choirs involved certainly well project the extremes of quiet serenity and solemn power found in these two important compositions.

Jean-Yves Duperron - August 2011