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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Dance Panels (1959) [29:06]
Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson (1948-1950; orch. late 1960s) [21:39]
Short Symphony (1933) [16:00]
Helen Schneiderman (mezzo) (in Dickinson Poems)
Orchestra of St. Lukes/Dennis Russell Davies
rec. 1992, MusicMasters. DDD
Notes by Tim Page and Charles Briefer
NIMBUS NI2545 [66:47]

Experience Classicsonline


This disc covers almost the entirety of Copland’s output. In the Short Symphony we see him moving from the then-modernism of the Piano Variations to his best-known, “Americanist” period. The Emily Dickinson songs are one of the best fruits of this same period. Dance Panels dates from 1959 when Copland was about to resume experimentation with the twelve tone method - see Piano Quartet and Piano Fantasy - while writing other works that were still pretty much in the American vein.

The Short Symphony has never been as popular as it should be. Indeed it once won the vote in a symposium in Modern Music as the American work most suffering unjust neglect. Perhaps because of this the composer rearranged it as a Sextet for Clarinet, Piano and String Quartet in 1937. In the version we have here Dennis Russell Davies has reduced the original orchestral complement by about half. This was done in the late 1970s with the approval of the composer. The work is in three continuous movements and already evinces the American accent by which Copland is best-known. There is also some influence of Stravinsky. What is most interesting is the amount of charm that seems to have gone unnoticed by early audiences in their concern with its metrical irregularities. The first movement is perky and rhythmically complex while the second has a wonderful slow, sad, theme with a lighter middle section. The ending is intense before dying away. The last movement is the most dissonant showing Copland’s movement into another compositional phase.

Dance Panels was Copland’s last ballet, written many years after the three classics - Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. It differs from them in being abstract: there is no set story. The work consists of seven varying movements, containing elements of both styles: pastoral and dissonant. The introduction is interesting in that it shows a new use of his usual harmonic procedures against a background of varying complexity. The next two movements, an allegretto and a scherzando, are gentle, but with darker moments, especially the allegretto. The highlight is the central Pas de trois. This starts in a noble mood, succeeded by a pastoral section reminiscent of Billy the Kid, which develops to a fine ending. The fifth section is perhaps the least interesting. The sixth is quite mysterious harmonically, giving way to the Molto ritmico - an expansive development of earlier material. While this piece contains some fine music, it cannot be considered one of the composer’s best works. It may one of the first examples of Copland losing interest in composition - a trend that was to appear gradually through the 1960s.

The Dickinson Songs comprise the majority of Copland’s contribution to the original song repertoire. There were originally twelve, written for voice and piano. About twenty years later, the composer orchestrated two-thirds of them and in doing so created one of his most searching works. Some critics have maintained that the songs are too much like lieder in construction and effect. In fact they stand as a summation of the many tendencies found in Copland’s work as well as showing a variety in the treatment of the texts that is rare in modern American song. Without going through each one, The Chariot, Dear March, come in and Heart, we will forget him must all be mentioned for their exploration of different aspects of Emily Dickinson territory.

No actual venue is listed for the recording, so one must assume that it was in the orchestra’s home-base, the Church of St. Luke in Manhattan. Wherever it is the venue has the somewhat dead sound that recordings made there sometimes have. However, the recording was made in 1992 by MusicMasters and is being re-released by Nimbus, so it is hard to guess. Helene Schneiderman is in good form vocally, although some listeners may find Dawn Upshaw’s rendition (see review) with Hugh Wolff on Koch more penetrating.

I first heard Dennis Russell Davies conduct Dance Panels at Copland’s seventy-fifth Birthday concert at Juilliard and I think it is safe to say that he has this piece completely under his belt. But his performance of the Short Symphony is the gem of the disc and it definitely can compete with those of Alsop (see review) or Tilson Thomas.

William Kreindler 

see also Review by Nick Barnard (August Bargain of the Month)

Tracklisting:

Dance Panels
(1959) [29:06]
1) Introduction: moderato [4:46]
2) Allegro con tenerezza [5:06]
3) Scherzando [3:16]
4) Pas de trios [5:12]
5) Con brio [3:32]
6) Con moto [1:55]
7) Molto ritmico [5:13]
Eight Poems of Emily Dickenson (1948-1950; orch. late 1960's) [21:39]
8) Nature, the gentlest mother [4:16]
9) There came a wind like a bugle [1:31]
10) The world feels dusty [1:51]
11) Heart, we will forget him [2:19]
12) Dear march, come in! [2:18]
13) Sleep is supposed to be [2:40]
14) Going to Heaven! [3:00]
15) The Chariot [3:18]

 


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