When he came here as the newly appointed music adviser of the Mostly Mozart Festival five years ago, Gerard Schwarz was a young man in a hurry. You could hear it in the way he conducted -- sometimes, frankly, as though he were rushing to catch a plane. It was not just that his tempos were very fast, though they often were. There was also a special kind of intensity -- a pressure -- in his music-making.
Part of it, no doubt, was simply the energy of youth -- the same energy that had made him a member of the American Brass Quintet and a conductor for the Eric Hawkins Dance Company when he was only 17, and the principal trumpeter of the New York Philharmonic by the time he was 25. But in 1982, five years after he quit the Philharmonic and two years after he stopped playing trumpet, Schwarz may have felt he had to make up for lost time -- all those years spent becoming one of the world's greatest trumpet players when he could have been working on conducting skills.
If Schwarz ever did fall behind on some kind of cosmic timetable, he has now caught up. He returns with the Mostly Mozart Festival, this week at the Kennedy Center, as a seasoned, well-recognized conductor with a repertoire of impressive depth and variety. After years of identification with festivals and chamber orchestras, he has completed his third season with his own full-sized ensemble, the Seattle Symphony, which sounds (at least on records) like a first-class orchestra. He conducts regularly all over Europe and is planning his first Australian tour next season. Besides his purely orchestral conducting, his operatic career is moving along. It began in the Washington Opera's 1982-83 season with Mozart's "Abduction From the Seraglio" and will continue with Beethoven's "Fidelio" next season at the Kennedy Center.
With his 40th birthday still ahead (it will be Aug. 19), it begins to look as if the sky is the limit for this conductor. Critics are beginning to talk about him as possibly the next American conductor to reach the international star level of Leonard Bernstein and Lorin Maazel.
But far beyond festivals, chamber orchestras, opera house pits or standing ovations in Seattle -- even beyond rave concert reviews -- the reputation of Gerard Schwarz is being enhanced and his audience expanded by his recordings on the Delos International label. For those who hear him this week at Mostly Mozart and want to hear more before "Fidelio" comes in next February, a few of his best records are briefly noted below.
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G; Symphony No. 5 in C minor. Carol Rosenberger, piano; London Symphony Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz conducting (Delos D/CD 3013).
Beethoven: Symphonies No. 1 and 8; "Prometheus" Overture. Gerard Schwarz conducting the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and (in "Prometheus") the London Symphony Orchestra (Delos D/CD 3013). A few years ago, Schwarz was still sometimes substituting energy for depth in his treatment of the classical Viennese repertoire. Today, he has outgrown this very American characteristic. He has not yet reached the stage where a conductor bends and stretches the music of Beethoven into a personal statement, and for many listeners that will be an asset; if he does not add an emotional overlay, he doesperceive and convey the emotions that are already there. His interpretations are clean lined, well paced and exquisitely respectful of the score, and his technical control of both orchestras is impressive. He is still young as Beethoven conductors on international records go, and these recordings are hardly likely to be his final word on the music, but they are poised, eloquent and very well played. Rosenberger is a sensitive, fluent pianist who will be mentioned again below.
Stravinsky: "The Soldier's Tale"; Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1; Prokofiev: "Classical Symphony." Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz conducting; Carol Rosenberger, piano; Stephen Burns, trumpet (Delos D/CD 3021). Anyone looking for a bright, energetic and highly idiomatic selection of Russian music from this century would find it hard to do better than this well-played and superbly recorded disc. In the Russian repertoire, which he is recording at an accelerating pace, Schwarz seems to be finding an ideal outlet for some of the athletic energy that cannot quite be absorbed in Mozart or Beethoven.
The three pieces on this disc contrast with and complement one another beautifully. Stravinsky's suite is really chamber music and evokes some brilliant solo playing. The Prokofiev is dainty, witty and beautifully poised, the Shostakovich lyrically raucous. Rosenberger brings to the concerto a shade of the thoughtfulness that is so effective in her Beethoven, but she also has all the panache required for the runaway last movement. The CD edition, by the way, is the only one that offers all three works together. The concerto has been linked with each (but not, simultaneously, both) of the other items on LP.
Prokofiev: "Romeo and Juliet": Suites 1 and 2; "Pushkin Waltz" No. 2. Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz conducting (Delos D/CD 3050).
Stravinsky: "The Firebird"; "Song of the Nightingale." Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz conducting (Delos D/CD 3051). For an American with Austrian parents, Schwarz shows a remarkable affinity for the modern Russian repertoire. The performances on these two discs are precise, powerful and formed with a sure sense of both dance movement and instrumental color. The Delos sound is of demonstration quality, bright but natural in color and conveying a realistic image of the orchestra. At least, one assumes it is realistic, though East Coast prejudice may make it hard for some listeners to imagine that the Seattle Symphony can be as good as the orchestra heard on these discs. It may also be worth noting that each disc (like most of Schwarz's orchestral CDs) contains nearly 70 minutes of music.
Wagner: Orchestral highlights from "Tannha user," "Das Rheingold," "Go tterda mmerung" and "Die Meistersinger." Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz conducting (Delos D/CD 3040). Schwarz made Wagnerian history in 1983 when he conducted the American premiere of Wagner's second opera, "Das Liebesverbot." That did not really establish his credentials as a Wagnerian, however, because the music of that forgotten opus sounded more like Donizetti than Wagner. On this disc, the material is considerably more familiar; in fact, it must contain, somewhere in its 69 minutes, nearly everyone's favorite Wagnerian orchestral highlight. Schwarz's style is that of a well-seasoned Wagner conductor. The Seattle brass does not have quite the power of Chicago's, its strings are not quite equal to Philadelphia's, but it is an excellent orchestra and the Delos recording makes the most of what it has to offer.