Ah, the wide open spaces
of Copland’s rural America. It’s a compelling
sound-world, one that serves almost
as a dictionary definition of ‘American
music’. Rhythmic, exciting, poignant,
lyrical, expansive and intimate, Copland’s
‘populist’ music seems to communicate
something particularly wholesome about
America. Popular it has proven to be,
with dozens of recordings of Appalachian
Spring, Rodeo, Bill the
Kid etc. filling the catalogue.
Any new recording of such works, even
at budget price, must offer something
new to compete in an increasingly competitive
market. This new Naxos offering fits
the bill in terms of repertoire but
falls woefully short in terms of performance
First of all, the positives.
The disc gives us two rarities, Prairie
Journal and Letter from Home,
both composed for radio. Neither piece
contributes much to our understanding
of Copland or his music but both are
pleasant enough to listen to. Anyone
who knows the three pieces mentioned
above will recognise the idiom. Copland
himself recorded Letter from Home
(featured on a three CD set on Sony
SM3K46559) but Prairie Journal
has proven to be somewhat more elusive.
The performance here is decent enough,
ignoring the occasional split note from
the trumpet section. The recording,
however, is so cavernous and soft-grained
that much of the detail is lost. The
louder passages suffer from a large
amount of occlusion but it is the softer
passages that come off worst. There
is a wonderful section of string accompaniment
that shows Copland’s rhythmic writing
in the best and most subtle light. Here,
however, it takes the ear far too long
to pinpoint exactly what is going on
given the huge amount of reverberation.
the best known piece on the disc, is
up against the stiffest competition.
‘Buckaroo Holiday’ features some nice
solos, particularly from the trombone.
Yet again, the sound blunts any kind
of rhythmic impact, the result being
a rather generalised impression of what
should be vividly pictorial music. Compare
this with the searing immediacy of Bernstein
(Sony SACD SS87327) and you will hear
exactly the level of detail and sheer,
visceral excitement that is lacking
here. ‘Corral Nocturne’ goes fairly
well, although it does suffer from some
questionable intonation from the brass,
and the lower strings tend to dominate.
‘Saturday Night Waltz’ is again plagued
by an inappropriate acoustic, but even
that cannot excuse the rhythmically
indistinct start of the waltz proper.
In this of all places, Copland is trying
to suggest innocence and intimacy, neither
of which is remotely implied here. The
‘Hoe Down’ is fine as a performance,
but once more let down by the recording.
In 1963, André
Previn recorded a brash, exciting recording
of The Red Pony. That recording
is still available on a budget priced
Sony compilation of Copland’s orchestral
works (Sony SBK62401). Whilst the new
recording doesn’t surpass it - in sound
or performance - it is quite effective,
bringing out the evocative qualities
inherent in Steinbeck’s source novel.
Again, the idiom will be familiar to
those who know any of Copland’s more
popular works and it is certainly not
an inconsiderable piece.
neither the performances nor recording
justify purchasing this disc unless
you are desperate to add the two rarer
pieces to your collection. For those
simply looking for a recording of Rodeo,
Bernstein is the benchmark. If modern
sound is vital, then Slatkin (HMV Classics
HMV5867212) offers not only great performances
and sonics, but includes an extra ‘piano
interlude’ not found on other recordings.
Owen E. Walton
For reviews of other releases in
this series on Musicweb, see the themed