Notes and Editorial Reviews
This has got to be the most intelligent, comprehensive, and well-earned big box tribute to a living conductor yet assembled. Gerard Schwarz is one of those conductors we tend to take for granted. Always in the public eye on disc, his career has encompassed large ensembles and small, alongside a major stint as a virtuoso trumpeter. Problematically, from the collector’s point of view, it has been spread all over the place as far as labels are concerned, with much of his earlier work as an instrumental soloist as well as with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra appearing on Nonesuch, and long out of print.
For this 30-disc collection selected by Schwarz himself, who also provides the detailed and insightful booklet notes explaining the reasoning behind each choice, Naxos has licensed and brought together many of those earlier recordings so as to make the set truly representative. The repertoire also has been recoupled to cram as much music as possible onto each disc–none of that “original jacket” BS the major labels employ to make you pay twice as much as you otherwise would need to. This set is a true bargain, as well as an embarrassment of musical riches.
Just as importantly, while there are a certain number of repertory chestnuts, there are even more examples of unusual, often inspired programming. Even if we consider the better known stuff, such as this really fine (and to be honest, wholly unexpected) Brahms cycle from Seattle, Schwarz also includes relative rarities, such as the Schoenberg arrangement of the Piano Quartet in G minor, and a magnificent account of the First Serenade with the LACO (sound clip) making a welcome return to the catalog.
Similarly, with regard to one of Schwarz’s great loves, Richard Strauss, you do get Till, Don, and Death, but also the conductor’s own suite from Der Rosenkavalier, the Divertimento after Couperin, the Introduction to Die Liebe der Danae, the suite from Die Frau ohne Schatten, and an extended program of music from Le bourgeois gentilhomme. Dvorák appears in the form of the Wind Serenade, the Czech Suite, and a first rate account of the Sixth Symphony. No “New World” in sight. Schubert is represented by his Third Symphony, Howard Hanson by his First (the “Nordic”), and Rimsky-Korsakov by suites from Mlada and The Snow Maiden. You get the picture–never the obvious choice, but always a welcome one.
Schwarz’s American music performances, mainly in Seattle for Delos (now on Naxos), put his orchestra on the map, and those performances are generously represented here. There’s everything from Bernstein’s “Kaddish” Symphony to Elliott Carter’s complete ballet The Minotaur, taking in David Diamond (Symphony No. 4 and other pieces), William Schuman (Second Symphony), and works by Griffes, Taylor, Barber, Piston, Hovhaness, Foote, Menin, Victor Herbert (a full disc’s worth), Creston, and many others along the way. These performances are all classics, and together they constitute the finest and most important collection of American orchestral music ever offered to the public.
Finally, Schwarz’s work as a trumpeter is also fully documented thanks to some careful mining of the old Nonesuch catalog. At one time or another it seems that Schwarz played and recorded just about every piece of Italian (and German) baroque trumpet music ever written, from Frescobaldi (sound clip) to lesser known–to normal people, if not trumpeters–names such as Cazzati, Fonatana, Marini, and Hertel, not ignoring the famous guys like Telemann, Albinoni, and Handel. There’s even a disc of Schwarz’s own compositions, well-made and enjoyable to the last.
Do I have some personal favorites? You betcha. There’s Schwarz’s vivid account of the Bizet/Shchedrin Carmen Ballet with the LACO, an absolutely first-class disc from Seattle of orchestral music by Andrzej Panufnik, revealing his range and artistic evolution from early to late, and a brilliant collection, again from Nonesuch, containing Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 1, Franz Schreker’s gorgeous Chamber Symphony, Busoni’s Clarinet Concerto, and Honegger’s Concerto da Camera–simply an amazing program of wonderful, unfairly neglected music. All of these works have since been recorded multiple times, but these performances were truly pioneering, and they have held up very well.
There’s too much music in this set for me to be able to describe it all. Suffice it to say that all of it is worth hearing, all of it is extremely well done, and all of it reveals Gerard Schwarz to be one of the most capable, smart, musicianly, and versatile artists before the public. He deserves the recognition, and Naxos has done him proud.
– ClassicsToday (David Hurwitz)