SHULMAN: Orchestral Works
Various soloists and conductors/NBC Symphony Orchestra
Theme and Variations for Viola and Orchestra (Emanuel Vardi, viola; Frank Black, conductor). Rendezvous for Clarinet and Strings (Alfred Gallodoro, clarinet; Samuel Antek, conductor). A Nocturne for Strings; Waltzes for Orchestra (Milton Katims, conductor). Hatikvah, arr. Shulman (Leonard Bernstein, conductor). A Laurentian Overture (Guido Cantelli, conductor). Minuet for Moderns; The Bop Gavotte (NBC Concert Orchestra/Don Gillis, conductor).
BRIDGE  9119 (F) (mono) (ADD) TT: 48:23

Bridge's booklet tells us that Alan Shulman was born in Baltimore in 1915 to a Russian émigré family. He received early lessons as a 'cellist, furthering his training at Peabody Conservatory and, after the family moved to Brooklyn in 1928, the Juilliard School. Along with his brother Sylvan, a violinist, he would become a charter member of Toscanini's NBC Symphony, and subsequently seems to have kept busy as a teacher (teaching Nelson Riddle orchestration!), arranger, and composer. His compositions, apparently performed quite frequently in the Forties and Fifties, were never recorded in the studio. On the basis of these collected transcriptions - from broadcasts, save for the Rendezvous for Clarinet and Strings - the music is of more than passing interest, and well worth reviving.

Shulman's distinctive persona is most telling in what might be termed his "genre pieces." The out-and-out lollipops - Minuet for Moderns and The Bop Gavotte - have, within their brief spans, a mild, appealing rhythmic quirkiness. The larger-scaled Waltzes for Orchestra recall Morton Gould's "classical-light" vein, but where Gould always seems about to break into a good tune without ever quite doing so, Shulman's stronger melodic gift tips the comparison in his favor. Nor does the Nocturne for Strings suffer from the inevitable association with Barber: Shulman's intensity is searing, rather than searching, before its affirmative resolution.

The Rendezvous for Clarinet and Strings is rather interesting. The sustained strings in the opening bars establish a plangent Expressionist mood, but Alfred Gallodoro's clarinet entry brings an easy, insouciant swing which is most fetching. A novelty is the impromptu arrangement of Hatikvah for a ceremonial dinner honoring Chaim Weizmann in 1949: when conductor Leonard Bernstein objected to the originally planned Kurt Weill arrangement, Shulman volunteered one of his own for that evening. It sounds more or less like any other arrangement of Hatikvah.

The Laurentian Overture, in Guido Cantelli's taut presentation, proves, even through the rather thin, wiry sound, as worthy a concert staple as Barber's School for Scandal curtain-raiser. The Theme and Variations for viola, on the other hand, falls uncomfortably between two stools, alternating a poignant, bittersweet lyricism with angular, uningratiating passages of virtuoso display.

The various monaural transcriptions all come up reasonably well. The Studio 8H ambience predictably underlines the astringency of the Theme and Variations; but, as indicated, the Laurentian Overture, from a Carnegie Hall concert, isn't appreciably better. The other Carnegie selections sound warmer, and source surface noises remain within acceptable levels throughout.

All in all, a pleasing surprise. The postwar American symphonists - Piston, Diamond, and company - have recently emerged after long neglect, but who knew that such an adept, gifted purveyor of lighter music similarly awaited rediscovery? Definitely a "find.'

S.F.V. (December 2002)