Old American Songs*
The Boatman's Song (Minstrel Song)
The Dodger (Campaign Song)
Long Time Ago (Ballad)
Simple Gifts (Shaker Song)
I Bought Me A Cat (Children's Song)
The Little Horses (Lullaby)
Zion's Walls (Revivalist Song)
The Golden Willow Tree (Anglo-American Ballad)
At The River (Hymn Tune)
Ching-A-Ring Chaw (Minstrel Song)
Down A County Lane Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson:-
Nature, The Gentlest Mother
There Came A Wind Like A Bugle
The World Feels Dusty
Heart, We Will Forget Him!
Dear March, Come In!
Sleep is Supposed To Be
Going to Heaven!
Billy the Kid - Waltz; Prairie Night; Celebration Dance.
Dawn Upshaw * Thomas Hampson
Teldec's budget Ultima series is one of the most adventurous of its kind
on the market with an unusual and eminently collectable repertoire. This
CD is a notable example and it will appeal to all admirers of Aaron Copland's
CD1 commences with a fine performance of the original version for 13 instruments
of Appalachian Spring. The reduced ensemble playing has a genuine,
gutsy feel, as though you are hearing the music played at the 'grass roots'
in some middle-America locale. The quieter movements are very atmospheric
and the dances have plenty of vitality and simple sincerity as in the well-known
'Theme and variations (The Gift to be Simple)' which is most affecting. Of
course, for the full emotional impact of the broad statement of the 'big'
tune you really need the larger forces of a symphony orchestra but its quieter
reaches, here, have a touching quiet dignity.
Music for the Theatre was premiered in November 1925 and it is very
much of its period. It begins with imposing brass fanfares before the mood
solemnises into the sort of warm homely nostalgic figurations that have become
indelibly associated with Copland and 'Middle' America. The jazzy, high-spirited
dance movement has a great sense of fun and mischief; this is the music of
Broadway musical comedy. 'Interlude' is music of poignancy and pathos.
'Burlesque' is just as the name suggests cheeky and great fun - the sort
of music one would expect to underscore a silent slapstick comedy. 'Epilogue'
with important parts for solo piano and violin returns us to a mood of melancholy
Great vitality and vibrant colour suffuse the Three Latin American Sketches.
They all carry the unmistakable Copland finger prints especially those
inimitable jerky, spiky rhythms.
Quiet City is a concert piece for trumpet and cor anglais written
in 1940. It is based on thematic materials from Copland's never-published
1939 incidental music for Irwin Shaw's play of the same name. This is one
of Copland's autumnal, nostalgic portraits. It is about the night thoughts
of many different kinds of people in a great city. It focuses on a lonely
and troubled Jewish boy who gives voice to his isolation on his jazz trumpet
- played here with sensitivity and eloquence by Gary Bordner.
CD2 opens with the orchestral version of Copland's two sets of Old American
Songs (1950 and 1952). What a wonderful baritone Thomas Hampson is! His
attractively timbered voice, authoritative, tender, comic by turn, distinguishes
these lovely melodic songs. His diction is immaculate and he has an exquisite
feel for the songs' lines and he has exceptional expressive qualities. He
sends out a loud clarion call announcing the boatman as he sails down the
Ohio River before he merrily sings about his merry exploits in 'The Boatman's
Dance.' 'The Dodger' is another merry, sardonic song about the confidence
tricks of the vote-collecting 'The Dodger.' But he suggests that we are all,
in our way, 'dodging through the world.' 'Long Time Ago' is a lovely sentimental
number with Hampson accenting the words beguilingly listen, for instance,
to how he sings "..round the lake where droops the willow
" with its
falling phrase on the word "droops". Copland's nature painting in this number
is also beautifully conceived. 'Simple Gifts' is of course the Shaker Song
that Copland uses in Appalachian Spring and Hampson sings it authoritatively
and very movingly. The final song in the first set is 'I Bought Me a Cat'
which will delight all young children with Hampson enjoying himself imitating
the farmyard animals and singing in a quaint rustic dialect.
The second set of Old American Songs begins with a lullaby The Little
Horses. It is predominantly quiet and serene with Hampson tender but
then more enthusiastic as the middle section of the song quickens tempo to
suggest the trotting of the horses - an enchanting little number. The Revivalist
Song Zion's Walls is a lively and catchy tune with Hampson in stalwart
preaching mode. The Golden Willow Tree is the most extensive number
of the whole series and is a narrative song of maritime exploits, a rather
tall tale. A lively number with Hampson in heroic mode and Copland supporting
him with an energetic and spiky rhythmed accompaniment. Copland gives the
well-known Hymn Tune At the River, a lovely setting and it is most
movingly performed. The work ends as it began with another exuberant minstrel
song Ching-A-Ring Chaw.
Copland had originally set twelve of Emily Dickinson's poems to music, in
1950, for voice and piano before choosing eight to arrange for voice and
chamber orchestra in 1970. As Vivian Perlis comments: "Copland was touched
by Dickinson's reclusive life leading him to create songs with a depth of
tenderness and lyricism, most evident in 'The World Feels Dusty' and 'Heart,
We Will Forget Him'
The songs present special challenges for the performers.
Not being in an accessible style, the songs received a moderate reception
but they have since been recognised as being among Copland's greatest
The opening song 'Nature, the Gentlest Mother' begins with woodwind birdsong
dialogue before the soprano enters. The caressing line of her song is of
infinite tenderness and caring. Yet there is a hint of the darker side of
nature too in a brief dissonant clamouring section. Dawn Upshaw is a
distinguished lyric soprano with fine dramatic expressive facility. Her tender
singing of this song contrasts bleakly with the more blustery stentorian
tones of 'There Came A Wind Like A Bugle' as nature shows a more violent
face and Copland responds accordingly. The melancholy 'The World Feels Dusty
(when we stop to die)' is a touching, drooping elegy. 'Heart, We Will Forget
Him' has one of Copland's loveliest long-spanned melodies and Upshaw sings
with great romantic intensity and we are left in no doubt that she will always
remember... 'Dear March, Come In' is an ecstatic welcome to spring personalised
to include all nature's joyful awakening. 'Sleep is supposed to be' is a
more difficult, craggy number introspective and symbolic. 'Going to Heaven'
is pure delight an innocent spiritual kind of song, the singer wondering
what heaven is like and pleading - "if you should get there first, save a
little place fore me
" Finally, 'The Chariot' in dotted rhythms is another
appealing halting song and the one which first captivated Copland to Dickinson's
verses. I would just raise one jarring note here: Ms Upshaw's diction in
her top register is non too clear and there are no texts given with these
songs (the downside of any budget reissue is the often skimpy booklet notes).
This omission seriously detracts from maximum enjoyment of these songs.
Down A Country Lane is another one of Copland's tender nostalgic portraits
of rural America and one of the composer's finest, most appealing miniatures.
The selection from Billy The Kid comprises a slow Waltz with a slightly
faster middle section. There is definite rustic quality about it suggesting
not too competent players in a rural locale but nonetheless an atmosphere
of disarming sincerity. 'Prairie night' is a serene nocturne - until, near
the end the peace is interrupted by gun shots. There is an important role
for trumpet in this movement suggesting the wide vistas of the priaries.
'Celebration Dance' is a lively comic closing episode.
The playing of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is first class throughout.
I recommend this album most warmly.