Our Town suite
Latin American Symphonette
Charlton Heston (Lincoln
Utah SO/Maurice Abravanel
rec Dec 1961 (Copland); Dec 1962 (Gould), Salt Lake City
order from omega records
I have a special and probably perverse affection for the Lincoln
Portrait. The combination of spoken word and orchestra is more reliably
moving than the sung word. Whether it is Vaughan Williams in Oxford Elegy
or Thanksgiving for Victory, Prokofiev/Stasevich's Ivan the
Terrible or Eugene Onegin or Bliss's Morning Heroes (recently
heard, courtesy of Reg Williamson, spoken with a German oration - poignant
indeed) great or even mediocre words make the most telling of effects.
Lincoln Portrait was at one time Copland's most played piece. It has
been recorded by celebrities of all brands: actors, politicians and soldiers.
The roster includes Gregory Peck, Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda (recording
made in 1968; discounting versions spoken in Spanish and Portuguese the only
one conducted by the composer), James Earl Jones (leading the field on Delos),
Norman Schwarzkopf and Margaret Thatcher.
It is worth noting that Lincoln Portrait was one of a series of works
commissioned by conductor, André Kostelanetz. The others have not
fared at all well. Whatever happened to Virgil Thomson's Mayor La Guardia
Waltzes, John Becker's Lincoln's Gettysburg Address for speaker,
chorus and orchestra and Jerome Kern's Mark Twain 'portrait'.
This most patriotic and least bombastic of pieces was banned for some
years when Copland was under the hammer of Senator MacCarthy's House Un-American
Activities Committee. A performance slated for President Eisenhower's
inauguration was cancelled for the same reason.
Abravanel's first trumpet sings a gloriously calming legato over
Gettysburg fallen scene-setting and scene-stealing for the climactic words.
Heston takes chances - speaking for the most part in a quiet slow drawling
voice without exaggeration allowing telling effects to be carried by the
alchemical catalytic effect of words and music. There is some distortion
in the sound in the louder passages of the Portrait and a roughened
tone to the strings in alt.
The angelic Utah trumpet also carries the day in the more refined, less populist
and even hesitant Quiet City. That cooling trumpet floats lovingly
over the 'jog-trot' of the strings in Outdoor Overture. The Overture
is a classic of entertainment music and while the Vanguard does not have
the zip and snap of Copland's own version on Sony, Abravanel turns in a zestful
version with a more sensitive reaction to its poetry (melting clarinet playing
towards the close). Did Moeran hear the Copland before he wrote his brilliant
Overture to a Masque? Did Copland hear Bliss's score for the film
Things to Come before writing the overture? Speaking of film music
we come to a miniature suite from Our Town (1940) - pastoral sampler
Americana. Abravanel stands away from the dodecaphonic Copland.
I am afraid that in this company the Gould piece seems the musical equivalent
of flat and warm beer and the problem is not with the Salt Lake City orchestra!
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