Telarc's approach to
reissues makes sense. Rather than repackaging
they simply shift their back catalogue
from full price down to bargain or mid-price.
So it is that this disc, first issued
in 1987, now reappears shifting down
a price tier.
There are a number
of novelties and rarities here that
make this disc of interest, especially
to Copland specialists. There is the
late 1940s John Henry - a fantasy
on the folk-song about the hero of American
railroads who competed with a steam
hammer. The work was commissioned by
Alan Lomax during the high sunrise of
the folk revival which also drew forth
Roy Harris’s Railroad Man’s Ballad
- this time on another hero, Casey
The Lincoln Portrait
is delivered with gravelly defiance
by Katharine Hepburn. She would not
be my first choice. Margaret Thatcher
also recorded this. For my money the
versions with James Earl Jones on Delos,
Charlton Heston on Vanguard or Gregory
Peck on Sony are to be preferred.
One of my Desert Island
Discs would be the opera The Tender
Land in the version recorded by
the composer in the 1960s. Of that work,
‘The Promise of Living’ - an exuberantly
confident sunrise for full ensemble
- stands close to the zenith of Copland’s
work. However, rather like the RVW Serenade
to Music, it does not 'speak' as
it should in the purely orchestral version.
It needs those voices; that humanising
element to rise to its fullest rapturous
expression. Kunzel and the Cincinnatians
do it extremely well so if you must
have the version shorn of voices this
is the place to go.
Sherrill Milnes is
glutinously lugubrious rather than feeling
in The Boatmen's Dance. However
that is the only demerit in the Set.
He is very much better in the other
songs; excellent in fact. A highly recommendable
version. The Jubilee Variations were
written as a cooperative work. Eugene
Goossens, then conductor of the Cincinnati
orchestra, composed a theme and Hanson,
Schuman, Piston, Harris, Bloch and Copland
wrote the variations in 1945 to produce
a composite to celebrate the 50th anniversary
of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Composite British works of the same
type are to be found in the Variations
on ‘Cadet Rousselle’ (to which Goossens
contributed a variant) and the Severn
Bridge Variations (recently recorded
on NMC). The Cincinnati set was thought
lost until the parts were found in an
attic of the Cincinnati Music Hall in
1986. This is the first recording. What
a pity that we are given only the Copland
... but it is a smashing piece.
The Ceremonial Fanfare
is plangent but not up to the level
of populism achieved in Copland’s block-buster
Fanfare for the Common Man. It
seems to be a work coloured by disillusion;
more grown up yet less magnificent than
its popular cousin. It was written in
1969 for the centennial of the New York
The Outdoor Overture
is a personal favourite of mine
occupying a genre also inhabited by
Moeran’s Overture to a Masque.
While very good, this version is not
better than the composer's own which
is more taut and has snap to the rhythmic
material. Still we are offered very
good sound and I have to confess that
the cool smooth trumpet solo of prairie
loneliness has never been better done:
try 1.02 and smooth 6.32 onwards. The
Harris-like bark to the horns has never
been caught as well as in the last pages
of this version.
Telarc offer an attractive
cover illustration with details from
Winold Reiss's 1931 mosaic mural from
the ceiling of Union Terminal Cincinnati.
Those glowingly stylised frontiersmen
pictured by Reiss are in truth little
different from the horizon-fixed stares
and heroic gleam of similar heroes pictured
in official Soviet tableaux of the time.
Copland would have smiled.