These three volumes are only available separately so
you can pick and choose. Dedicated Coplanders will want all of them.
Sony, who have come in for considerable stick in some
quarters, have here done a regal job. Design is consistent across the
three sets. The market placement is astute at mid-price. The 2 CD sets
are in slimline cases.
The great attraction of these sets is the harvest of
previously CD-unavailable tapes. The following receive their first CD
release here: Nonet, Vitebsk, Piano Quartet, Lincoln Portrait, Dickinson
Poems (both Addison and Lipton), Old American Songs, Tender Land, In
the Beginning, Dark, Nonet, Copland rehearsing Appalachian Spring. The
two Billy extracts played by Oscar Levant appear for the first
time on any commercial medium.
The sets were issued in Copland centenary year (2000)
and merit attention here.
The age of the tapes varies from 1959 to 1971 with
many falling in the 1960s. The only monos are the Martha Lipton Dickinson
Poems, the Warfield American Songs, the Levant Billy excerpts. These
are all ADD and the sound quality is good to excellent.
Discographical documentation is good and background
notes (in English only) are by Copland biographer, Howard Pollack.
An obvious though hardly damning demerit is that none
of the words are printed.
The booklet for each set is liberally sprinkled with
facsimiles of concert fliers and programme notes as well as some very
natural on the fly photographs.
Though eclipsed in hifi terms there is still plenty
of bass and fibrous pith in the LSO version of the Fanfare. The boozy
Arnold-like Copland is evident from the second of the Rodeo dance
episodes which also chimes in well with The American Songs. His
orchestration which blossomed under the tutelage of Nadia Boulanger
is pristine, Gallic in its transparency but American in every other
way. I wasn't sure whether the LSO were quite on top of things in the
final dance but otherwise things go with a swing and with galloping
élan. Stravinsky scores were amongst those studied by Copland
during his Parisian years and certainly The Rite surfaces with
unmistakable identity throughout the orchestral works - try The Open
Prairie in Billy The Kid. When that music returns at the
end it has the atmosphere of a tragic scrolling effect - extremely cinematic.
Playing is pointed and precise - a great orchestra in their finest confident
El Salon lacks the out and out zip and shudder
of Bernstein's version however the accenting is sharper in the composer's
version. The NYPO are probably more at home in this music and the NPO
trumpets seem not completely inside the idiom by comparison with Bernstein's
band. The LSO manage things more naturally with Danzon Cubano.
Quiet City - that hymn to metropolitan solitude has never quite
been matched in the case of this Copland version.
Appalachian Spring is a hallmark work
in Copland's catalogue. Its qualities are exposed to even greater effect
in its original chamber garb. A cool innocence allied of music
keyed into vernal winds, rustic playfulness and the landscape. Some
may miss the opulence of a full orchestra but the compensations in terms
of diaphanous sounds and a glowing soundscape more than compensate.
Tight rhythmic control push things along with real zing. Somehow the
fact that this represents the score as it would have sounded when it
was danced by the Martha Graham troupe in the murderous 1940s seems
only a makeweight. Hearing the complete ballet underlines who used we
have become to the orchestral suite - tracks 8, 11 and 12 seems stylistically
anomalous now - rather slow, a trifle slower and Molto allegro ed
agitato. The fifteen instruments are six violins, two violas, two
cellos, double bass, flute, clarinet, bassoon and piano. Paul Jacobs
was the pianist in this 1973 recording. We take with this more than
17 minutes of rehearsal which illustrates the care with which Copland
laboured at the creation of that slender web of sound and zappy attack.
Copland's direction is firm, specific but always respectful of the musicians.
The sequence is not continuous with sections faded down and then faded
The Nonet for strings is a quite unfamiliar work. It
oscillates between the poles of Bach, Tippett and neo-classicism. A
no-holds-barred performance with plenty of gutsy playing compromised
by 1962 sound only to the extent that it lends an unforgiving edge to
the strings at forte and above.
Copland is the pianist in all four works and in three
of them he is joined by the Juilliard or at least by three members of
Vitebsk [11.37] shows Copland light years
distant from the sharp freshness of Appalachian Spring. This
speaks more of winters and pogroms and does so in the choleric and impatient
accents of kletzmer and Shostakovich. Just once [7.07] did I catch the
'old' Copland. Delivered with malevolent precision by the composer with
members of the Juilliard.
The Sextet (about 15 mins) is just as busy as
Vitebsk but less 'fractured'. It draws its strengths from the
ballet scores - I thought most often of Billy The Kid. Respite
from the intersection of vigorous dance motifs comes in a lento
that rises to a scale-descending oration in which bell tones are suggested
by the interplay of Harold Wright's clarinet and Copland's piano. It
is an arrangement of the Short Symphony (1932-3).
The Piano Quartet [c. 20 mins] rears up from
serious sunless realms towards cloudless skies and then sinks shiveringly
back into dissonant anxiety and protest with Copland clearly relishing
the exposed piano notes punched out in defiance. Rather like Vitebsk
this is a work of occluded or at least strained tonality. Normal service
is restored in the Non troppo lento (valiant choice for a finale)
that subtly stalks and claws its way up to a lyrical statement.
The Duo is modestly titled. It is in
three movements (running c. 13 minutes) each unassumingly titled: Flowing;
Poetic, somewhat mournful; Lively, with bounce. While
the other three works come from sessions in 1966 this one is from two
1972 dates. Elaine Shaffer is not as fruitily toned as some flautists
but she endues her primo role with great feeling. The outer movements
give us instantly recognisable vintage Copland (Appalachia clearly seen)
while the central movement leaves us in the tonally-challenged shadowlands.
Carl Sandburg's sing-song delivery in Lincoln
Portrait is affecting. With his sibilant-emphasised speech and
his unusual word accenting this may not suit everyone. Still and all
I found this registered very freshly in a work I have heard in many
versions. Kostelanetz and the NYPO perform with fervour.
The Portrait was commissioned by Kostelanetz.
He and Sandburg premiered the work in Cincinnati on 14 May 1942. The
work tapped into the spirit of the times and was performed throughout
the USA and beyond. Cincinnati was also the scene of the premiere of
Fanfare for the Common Man, less than a year later, on
12 March 1943.
I have always been a sucker for works with orator and
orchestra. Do hear this already throat-lumpy work intoned with unHollywoodlike
modesty and the occasional fallible stumble by one of America's foremost
poets. Sandburg's poetry inspired several of the tone poems of Chicago
composer, Leo Sowerby.
Stepping away from grandeur we come to the microcosm
of Martha Lipton in the Dickinson Songs. The 1952 original
is not in pristine condition. Rumble and a low level rough hiss are
there but Lipton's dark-hued voice is preserved in good condition without
distortion. Across the three volumes this is the only work to be duplicated
albeit with a different singer. Both versions are with the composer
at the piano. The Lipton is mono (1952) while the Adele Addison is stereo
Warfield in the American Songs [both
sets] is in resonant voice though inclined to wobble on longer notes.
Consciously folksy by contrast with the artsong edge of the Dickinson
songs they are disarming and the strength of Warfield is his sincere
delivery - no trace of embarrassed pastiche. Operatic delivery or condescension
would flatten these songs. Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary are a toddler's
step away from this style. I loved The Little Horses. Zion's
Walls shares a linkage with The Promise of Living from the
opera The Tender Land - a work we will come back to. These versions,
accompanied by the composer, are in mono from 1951 and 1953. A decade
or so later he recorded the orchestral arrangement of both sets. These
are on volume 3.
In 1949 Oscar Levant best known for his Gershwin and
Tchaikovsky, not to mention his Hollywood connections, went into the
Columbia 30th Street studios in 1949 to record three extracts from Billy
the Kid. These are arrangements made by Lukas Foss. The
Open Prairie has been issued before. Levant trips along in a tart
combination of Shostakovich and Kurt Weill in the Celebration Dance
- one can hear where Kapustin might have absorbed some of his influences.
The Dickinson Songs sound much better
here with Addison's slender and less worldly tone a much closer match
to the childhood sentiments of the songs. Warfield sounds better in
the orchestral version of the American Songs with much
greater colour and richness of expressiveness in the full instrumentation.
In In the Beginning Mildred Miller sounds very much the
operatic soprano and this contrasts with The Lark which
sounds suspiciously like Britten's Saint Cecilia. In the Beginning
was recorded many years ago by the Gregg Smith Singers on Everest.
I still have that LP. The New England Chorus are a smallish choir. They
are skilful pieces both but, at least for this listener, they fail to
engage emotionally. Technically they are great showpieces and would
challenge any choir.
The Tender Land can, in the broadest
brush terms, be thought of as an extension onto an operatic stage of
Copland's Appalachian manner. This is crossed with the merest dash of
The cast here does not miss a beat. I wish that CBS
had chosen to record the whole opera. Just occasionally a recording
project works with devastating aptness. This is one of those instances.
When the artists walked into the Manhattan Center on 31 July 1965 who
would have thought that such an indelible, moving, viscerally exciting,
emotionally animated experience would emerge? The text, by the way,
is by Genevieve Taggard who also wrote the text for The Lark.
Laurie is sung by Joy Clements (sop) and her openness
and spontaneity repay dividends. She sounds as you would imagine Laurie
to sound - on the edge of womanhood, excited, fearful, unalloyed by
experience. Richard Cassilly (an extremely good Troilus in Walton's
Troilus and Cressida) as Laurie's lover, the weak and malleable
Martin, who abandons Laurie, is a passionate tenor whose operatic career
did not cloud his ability to project with touching clarity. He reaches
out to his audience time after time. The more cynical, worldly and calculating
Top is Richard Fredericks. Norman Treigle is Grandpa Moss.
I defy you to resist frisson after frisson as you hear
this glorious work. Listen to the wondrous climax to The Promise
of Living [tr. 7] - those horns calling out and the voices hitting
both their top notes and emotional 'mot juste'. We've Been North,
We've been south is given rhythmically split-second delivery by
the two anti-heroes. Then try the cross-cut Orff-ian patterning of Stomp
You Foot [tr. 11]. Desert Island stuff. A cool Delian nocturnal
impressionism enriches The World Seems Still Tonight. The orchestral
depiction of the sunrise in track 16 The Sun is Coming Up is
worth sampling as well. Really molten music making!
This work and this recording are far too little known.
Do not expect opera with lashings of vibrato, with opera-house conventionality,
with adipose attitude. Copland blows fresh air through the conventions
with a poignant pastoralism close to Patrick Hadley on the one hand
and showland Bernstein and Sondheim on the other.
Fanfare for the Common Man
LSO/composer, Walthamstow, 26-29 Oct 1968
LSO/composer, Walthamstow, 26 Oct 1968
Billy The Kid,
LSO/composer, Walthamstow, Nov 1969
El Salon Mexico
New Philharmonia/composer, EMI 31 May 1972
LSO/composer, EMI 9-10 Nov 1970
William Lang (trumpet)/Michael Winfield (English Horn)/LSO/composer,
Walthamstow, 6 Nov 1969
Down a Country Lane,
LSO/composer, Walthamstow, 26 Oct 1968
Appalachian Spring (original chamber version), + rehearsal sequence
Columbia Chamber Ensemble/composer, rec Columbia Studios, 9-11 May 1973
Columbia String Ensemble/composer rec 799, 7th Ave, NY City, 6 Apr 1962
members of Juilliard, composer (piano), Columbia 30th St Studio, NYC,
27-28 Oct 1966
Harold Wright (cl), composer (piano) Juilliard Quartet Columbia 30th
St Studio, NYC, 27-28 Oct 1966
composer (piano) Juilliard Quartet (members of) Columbia 30th St Studio,
NYC, 27-28 Oct 1966
Elaine Shaffer (fl), composer (piano), Columbia 30th St Studio, NYC,
11-14 Dec 1972,
Carl Sandburg (orator), NYPO/Kostelanetz, NYC 16 Mar 1958
Martha Lipton (sop)/composer (piano) rec 30th street studio, NYC, 22
Dec 1950, 4 Apr 1952
Old American Songs
William Warfield (bar)/composer (piano) rec 30th street studio, NYC,
16 Aug 1951, 18 Aug 1953
Oscar Levant (piano) rec 30th street studio, NYC, 1 Sept 1949
Adele Addison/composer (piano)
rec 30th St studio, NYC, 16 Nov 1964
Old American Songs
William Warfield (bar) / Columbia SO / composer rec Manhattan Center
NYC 3 and 4 May 1962.
In the Beginning; Lark
Mildred Miller (sop - In the Beginning), Robert Hale (bar - Lark) New
England Conservatory Chorus/composer
rec 30th St studio, NYC, 29 Mar 1965
The Tender Land
Laurie - Joy Clements (sop)
Ma Moss - Clara-Mae Turner (mz)
Grandpa Moss - Norman Treigle (bar)
Martin - Richard Cassilly (ten)
Top - Richard Fredericks (bar)
Choral Arts Society
rec Manhattan Center, NYC, 31 July 1965