March 2006

William Schuman - George Washington Bridge; American Hymn; Prelude for a Great Occasion; Circus Overture; New England Triptych
Keystone Wind Ensemble, Jack Stamp conductor
Klavier K 11155
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Jack Stamp’s 1990 interview with William Schuman, which takes up the last 26 minutes of this CD, is none too well recorded, but it does make clear the profound admiration that fueled the characterful, technically secure performances that precede it. Schuman, regarded by many as the Great American Symphonist, loved band music, and made some stunning contributions to the repertory. His George Washington Bridge became a band classic more than 50 years ago. The ten-minute version of American Hymn recorded here preceded the more expansive orchestral version by a year or so; there is also an earlier version for brass quintet, as well as three later ones: for chorus, for chorus and brass quintet, and a shorter one for orchestra. All six versions were commissioned for specific occasions.

The "great occasion" for which the Prelude was composed was the opening of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington in 1974; the piece itself, for 15 brass instruments and a truckload of percussion, has been described as a "sculpture." (It is listed as "Fanfare for a Great Occasion" on the tray card and track index, but the correct title turns up in the annotation.)

The remaining material here was originally composed for orchestra and subsequently arranged for band, some of it by Schumann himself, some by others. It’s all in very good hands, and, whatever reservations one might have regarding the recording of the interview, the sound in the music tracks is absolutely demonstration class.