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Schuman: On Freedom's Ground, American Festival Overture, A Free Song / Hobson, Sinfonia Da Camera

Schuman / Sinfonia Da Camera / Herrera / Hobson
Release Date: 07/12/2011 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1280   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  William Schuman
Performer:  Ricardo HerreraIngrid Kammin
Conductor:  Ian HobsonFred Stoltzfus
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia da CameraUniversity of Illinois ChoraleUniversity Of Illinois Oratoria Society
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



SCHUMAN American Festival Overture. A Free Song 1,2. Prelude 1,3. On Freedom’s Ground 1,2 Ian Hobson, 1 Fred Stoltzfus, cond.; Sinfonia da Camera; 1 U of Illinois Chorale and Oratorio Society; 2 Ricardo Herrera (bar); 3 Ingrid Read more Kammen (s) ALBANY TROY 1280 (71:33)


Who could have ever envisioned two separate “first recordings” of William Schuman’s 1943 Pulitzer Prize-winning cantata A Free Song being released practically simultaneously? See the two reviews and one article in this issue re: Cedille’s Pulitzer Project disc. But this terrific Albany is far from outclassed by the Cedille because it can lay claim to the first recording of Schuman’s most ambitious choral-orchestral work, On Freedom’s Ground , his penultimate tribute to his beloved native land and his (or our) near-obsessive preoccupation with—if not fetishization of—“freedom” (cf. Jonathen Franzen’s latest blockbuster novel, let alone the Tea Party fanatics).


The ever-enterprising Ian Hobson leads his dedicated vocal and instrumental forces from the University of Illinois in a performance of A Free Song that, although the tempi are identical, perhaps projects a shade more of Schuman’s characteristic aggressive edge than the Cedille. Incidentally, there is also another Schuman secular cantata— This Is Our Time —that might bear further inspection on disc.


As for Prelude, a 1939 product of Schuman’s years at Sarah Lawrence when he was especially concerned both as an educator and a composer with choral repertoire, conductor Fred Stoltzfus and soprano Ingrid Kammen bring off a hauntingly nostalgic rendition of Thomas Wolfe’s immortal invocations from Look Homeward, Angel. Though technically not a first recording, this is fully equal to the version by the Gregg Smith Singers recorded years ago for the Vox Box series America Sings.


But the highlight of this release remains the 40-minute 1985 “American cantata” On Freedom’s Ground, which Schuman, in collaboration with the distinguished poet Richard Wilbur, created to celebrate the centenary of the Statue of Liberty. Its five continuous movements really comprise a choral symphony, and would that Albany had provided track entry points for the three inner movements. Although Schuman’s vocal language had in later years veered closer and closer to a kind of colorless atonality, this somewhat doggedly ponderous and self-consciously affirmatively “public” statement contains some marvelous orchestral pages: the rambunctious yet threatening opening of the second movement, “Our Risen States,” and the unexpectedly jolly collection of popular dance forms comprising the fourth movement. And, as my esteemed colleague Walter Simmons opines in his seminal study Voices of Stone and Steel, the saving grace of this often musically awkward work is Wilbur’s superbly eloquent verses. His main theme of the fertilizing impact of immigration on our culture is especially relevant today when many Americans seem to have turned their backs on the “melting pot” vision of our society.


The program is unfortunately prefaced by a surprisingly tame and tentative approach to Schuman’s knockout of an opener, American Festival Overture, a defiantly overpowering burst of cumulatively relentless Juggernaut-like energy that totally eludes these players. But thankfully there still are two available superior versions on disc, one by Bernstein and the other by Slatkin. Personally I treasure my first exposure to Schuman’s dynamic celebration of the urban street culture—an old American Recording Society 10-inch (later reissued in phony stereo by Desto) conducted by that half-forgotten but ever-stalwart proponent of the “American Muse,” Walter Hendl.


But with the premiere recording of On Freedom’s Ground , we have yet another invaluable Albany contribution to the documentation of American music.


FANFARE: Paul A. Snook
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Works on This Recording

1.
On Freedom's Ground by William Schuman
Performer:  Ricardo Herrera (Baritone)
Conductor:  Ian Hobson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia da Camera,  University of Illinois Chorale,  University Of Illinois Oratoria Society
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
2.
American Festival Overture by William Schuman
Conductor:  Ian Hobson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia da Camera
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; USA 
3.
A Free Song by William Schuman
Performer:  Ricardo Herrera (Baritone)
Conductor:  Ian Hobson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sinfonia da Camera,  University of Illinois Chorale,  University Of Illinois Oratoria Society
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; USA 
4.
Prelude by William Schuman
Performer:  Ingrid Kammin (Soprano)
Conductor:  Fred Stoltzfus
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Illinois Chorale
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; USA 

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