The New England Triptych and American Festival Overture I like less than the other works on this album. They both embody a one-dimensional, naïve sort of Americana, a Main Street parade, national anthem kind of patriotic enthusiasm that I don't think serves the aesthetic of sophisticated orchestral music well; nor, for that matter, is it served well itself by the compositional forms and dissonant harmonic language of 20th century neo-Romanticism. Schuman's transcription of Ives' Variations on America is better, with a bit more depth to it: it's ironical, witty, angular.
The really compelling offering here, then, is Schuman's Tenth Symphony. In fact, I think it may well be the equal of a few of Shostakovich's lesser symphonies. Each of the three movements emphasizes the extensive variation, development, and transformation of certain key motives, and Schuman carries this off with compelling (if perhaps not quite Lisztian) skill. The St. Louis Symphony play it with conviction and good taste.
Yet my reservation with regard to the pep-rally atmosphere of the minor works on this album still applies here, to a lesser extent. I find the dissonant angst characteristic of 20th century harmonic language somewhat incompatible with the naïve optimism of the American ethos. Bartók and Shostakovich, by contrast--to name two of the composers who used the language most effectively--came from cultures shaped by thousands of years of sufferings and hardships unknown to the affluent, born-yesterday culture of American whites. How many barbarian and imperial armies swept across the Russian steppes, century after century through history? How many centuries of ethic hatred and violence have plagued southeastern Europe? How much have the peoples of both regions suffered in stark rural poverty as the West has enjoyed its many centuries of comfortable affluence? Russian and Eastern European folk melodies and Orthodox Christian chant evince their dark pathos with good reason, and it's no accident that Eastern composers like Bartók and Shostakovich were the ones who found the most poignant things to say with the aggressive dissonance of 20th century writing.
So, while his Tenth is a worthy composition, next to those great Eastern European masters who found so much to say with the dissonance common to the Modernist harmonic language, there's some extent to which Schuman sounds out of his element. It's good writing, but not great.