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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) [3:18]
Rodeo (1942) [18:16]
Appalachian Spring (Suite) (1945) [22:19]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)

Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber (1940-43) [20:13]*
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Louis Lane, *Robert Shaw
rec. Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, March 1981 and *November 1980
TELARC SACD-60648 [64:38]



These Copland performances impressed me mightily on vinyl, not least because of Telarc’s remarkably clean engineering. Revisiting them now, my enthusiasm persists, but in more muted form.

The opening percussion shots of the Fanfare for the Common Man have the sort of tremendous depth and presence at which Telarc used particularly to excel. But they're way out of proportion to the main group of instruments, which doesn’t register with the same impact. The opening trumpets suggest a distant call across vast open spaces – an effect missed in more conventionally in-your-face performances such as Ormandy’s (Sony or RCA) – but never get "closer"; even the tympani whacks sound subdued alongside the recurrent punctuations. Perhaps unfolding the SACD's surround information would help – I listened in straight frontal stereo – but that seems unlikely. It's still impressive, but I’d have preferred a more realistic equalization.

The four dance episodes from Rodeo – does anyone ever play the complete original ballet? – go nicely. Louis Lane projects the irregular, syncopated rhythms with assurance and a nice "swing" – if without Bernstein's crispness and point (Sony) – and gently nudges the metrical ambiguities of the Saturday Night Waltz. As in other Atlanta recordings from this period, the string desks sound slightly understaffed, but this helps keep the textures light, especially in the outer movements.

Appalachian Spring offers beautiful pages alongside others imperfectly realized. After a flowing but aimless slow introduction, the first tutti picks up a nice airborne buoyancy, only to grow tentative and lose steam as it winds down. Vibrant string tone sustains interest in some of the quiet passages; others simply go static. From the Shaker tune through to the coda’s wistful fadeout, however, is all first-rate, with the pellucid woodwind reproduction making no small assist.

Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis, which fills out the program, is drawn from an earlier Telarc LP. The composer's accessible astringencies prove an unexpectedly effective foil for Copland's Americana mode. Robert Shaw never achieved the same technical expertise as an orchestral conductor that he had as a choral trainer, a shortcoming that shows here in generalized orchestral textures and some diffuse string attacks. But he delivers this extroverted score with a healthy musicality, eliciting plenty of vivid, pungent orchestral color.

The choice and sequence of works is pleasing, then, and the program is mostly well recorded, but this isn't really a top choice for any of the works included. The booklet, by the way, places the Copland sessions, implausibly and erroneously, at Powell Hall in St. Louis; Telarc's American representative confirms that all these pieces were in fact recorded in Atlanta, as the headnote indicates.

Stephen Francis Vasta

 


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