> A COPLAND Celebration Sony 3 discs [RB]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

BARGAIN OF THE MONTH


 

Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
A Copland Celebration - in Three 2CD Volumes ... from Sony Classical

Vol. 1: Famous Orchestral and Chamber Works
SONY CLASSICAL SM2K 89323 [CD1: 75.56; CD2: 67.13]
Vol. 2: Chamber Works and Rarities
SONY CLASSICAL SM2K 89326 [CD1: 61.41; CD2: 75.00]
Vol. 3: Vocal Works and Opera
SONY CLASSICAL SM2K 89329 [CD1: 75.23; CD2: 65.58]

Vol. 1: Fanfare for the Common Man (1942), Rodeo (1942), Billy The Kid (1942), El Salon Mexico (1936), Danzon Cubano (1942), Quiet City (1939), Down a Country Lane (1965), Appalachian Spring (original chamber version) (1945), Nonet (1960), composer rehearses Appalachian Spring.
Vol. 2: Vitebsk (1928), Sextet (1937), Piano Quartet (1950), Duo (1940s?), Lincoln Portrait (1942), Dickinson Poems (1950), Old American Songs (1950, 1959), Billy (excerpts)
Vol. 3: Dickinson Poems (1950), Old American Songs(1950, 1959), In the Beginning (1947), Lark (1938), The Tender Land (1954)
[full details of disc content at end of review]


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These three volumes are only available separately so you can pick and choose. Dedicated Coplanders will want all of them.

Sony, who have come in for considerable stick in some quarters, have here done a regal job. Design is consistent across the three sets. The market placement is astute at mid-price. The 2 CD sets are in slimline cases.

The great attraction of these sets is the harvest of previously CD-unavailable tapes. The following receive their first CD release here: Nonet, Vitebsk, Piano Quartet, Lincoln Portrait, Dickinson Poems (both Addison and Lipton), Old American Songs, Tender Land, In the Beginning, Dark, Nonet, Copland rehearsing Appalachian Spring. The two Billy extracts played by Oscar Levant appear for the first time on any commercial medium.

The sets were issued in Copland centenary year (2000) and merit attention here.

The age of the tapes varies from 1959 to 1971 with many falling in the 1960s. The only monos are the Martha Lipton Dickinson Poems, the Warfield American Songs, the Levant Billy excerpts. These are all ADD and the sound quality is good to excellent.

Discographical documentation is good and background notes (in English only) are by Copland biographer, Howard Pollack.

An obvious though hardly damning demerit is that none of the words are printed.

The booklet for each set is liberally sprinkled with facsimiles of concert fliers and programme notes as well as some very natural on the fly photographs.

 

Volume 1

CD1

Though eclipsed in hifi terms there is still plenty of bass and fibrous pith in the LSO version of the Fanfare. The boozy Arnold-like Copland is evident from the second of the Rodeo dance episodes which also chimes in well with The American Songs. His orchestration which blossomed under the tutelage of Nadia Boulanger is pristine, Gallic in its transparency but American in every other way. I wasn't sure whether the LSO were quite on top of things in the final dance but otherwise things go with a swing and with galloping élan. Stravinsky scores were amongst those studied by Copland during his Parisian years and certainly The Rite surfaces with unmistakable identity throughout the orchestral works - try The Open Prairie in Billy The Kid. When that music returns at the end it has the atmosphere of a tragic scrolling effect - extremely cinematic. Playing is pointed and precise - a great orchestra in their finest confident form.

El Salon lacks the out and out zip and shudder of Bernstein's version however the accenting is sharper in the composer's version. The NYPO are probably more at home in this music and the NPO trumpets seem not completely inside the idiom by comparison with Bernstein's band. The LSO manage things more naturally with Danzon Cubano. Quiet City - that hymn to metropolitan solitude has never quite been matched in the case of this Copland version.

CD2

Appalachian Spring is a hallmark work in Copland's catalogue. Its qualities are exposed to even greater effect in its original chamber garb. A cool innocence allied of music keyed into vernal winds, rustic playfulness and the landscape. Some may miss the opulence of a full orchestra but the compensations in terms of diaphanous sounds and a glowing soundscape more than compensate. Tight rhythmic control push things along with real zing. Somehow the fact that this represents the score as it would have sounded when it was danced by the Martha Graham troupe in the murderous 1940s seems only a makeweight. Hearing the complete ballet underlines who used we have become to the orchestral suite - tracks 8, 11 and 12 seems stylistically anomalous now - rather slow, a trifle slower and Molto allegro ed agitato. The fifteen instruments are six violins, two violas, two cellos, double bass, flute, clarinet, bassoon and piano. Paul Jacobs was the pianist in this 1973 recording. We take with this more than 17 minutes of rehearsal which illustrates the care with which Copland laboured at the creation of that slender web of sound and zappy attack. Copland's direction is firm, specific but always respectful of the musicians. The sequence is not continuous with sections faded down and then faded up.

The Nonet for strings is a quite unfamiliar work. It oscillates between the poles of Bach, Tippett and neo-classicism. A no-holds-barred performance with plenty of gutsy playing compromised by 1962 sound only to the extent that it lends an unforgiving edge to the strings at forte and above.

Volume 2

CD1

Copland is the pianist in all four works and in three of them he is joined by the Juilliard or at least by three members of the Quartet.

Vitebsk [11.37] shows Copland light years distant from the sharp freshness of Appalachian Spring. This speaks more of winters and pogroms and does so in the choleric and impatient accents of kletzmer and Shostakovich. Just once [7.07] did I catch the 'old' Copland. Delivered with malevolent precision by the composer with members of the Juilliard.

The Sextet (about 15 mins) is just as busy as Vitebsk but less 'fractured'. It draws its strengths from the ballet scores - I thought most often of Billy The Kid. Respite from the intersection of vigorous dance motifs comes in a lento that rises to a scale-descending oration in which bell tones are suggested by the interplay of Harold Wright's clarinet and Copland's piano. It is an arrangement of the Short Symphony (1932-3).

The Piano Quartet [c. 20 mins] rears up from serious sunless realms towards cloudless skies and then sinks shiveringly back into dissonant anxiety and protest with Copland clearly relishing the exposed piano notes punched out in defiance. Rather like Vitebsk this is a work of occluded or at least strained tonality. Normal service is restored in the Non troppo lento (valiant choice for a finale) that subtly stalks and claws its way up to a lyrical statement.

The Duo is modestly titled. It is in three movements (running c. 13 minutes) each unassumingly titled: Flowing; Poetic, somewhat mournful; Lively, with bounce. While the other three works come from sessions in 1966 this one is from two 1972 dates. Elaine Shaffer is not as fruitily toned as some flautists but she endues her primo role with great feeling. The outer movements give us instantly recognisable vintage Copland (Appalachia clearly seen) while the central movement leaves us in the tonally-challenged shadowlands.

CD2

Carl Sandburg's sing-song delivery in Lincoln Portrait is affecting. With his sibilant-emphasised speech and his unusual word accenting this may not suit everyone. Still and all I found this registered very freshly in a work I have heard in many versions. Kostelanetz and the NYPO perform with fervour.

The Portrait was commissioned by Kostelanetz. He and Sandburg premiered the work in Cincinnati on 14 May 1942. The work tapped into the spirit of the times and was performed throughout the USA and beyond. Cincinnati was also the scene of the premiere of Fanfare for the Common Man, less than a year later, on 12 March 1943.

I have always been a sucker for works with orator and orchestra. Do hear this already throat-lumpy work intoned with unHollywoodlike modesty and the occasional fallible stumble by one of America's foremost poets. Sandburg's poetry inspired several of the tone poems of Chicago composer, Leo Sowerby.

Stepping away from grandeur we come to the microcosm of Martha Lipton in the Dickinson Songs. The 1952 original is not in pristine condition. Rumble and a low level rough hiss are there but Lipton's dark-hued voice is preserved in good condition without distortion. Across the three volumes this is the only work to be duplicated albeit with a different singer. Both versions are with the composer at the piano. The Lipton is mono (1952) while the Adele Addison is stereo (1964).

Warfield in the American Songs [both sets] is in resonant voice though inclined to wobble on longer notes. Consciously folksy by contrast with the artsong edge of the Dickinson songs they are disarming and the strength of Warfield is his sincere delivery - no trace of embarrassed pastiche. Operatic delivery or condescension would flatten these songs. Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary are a toddler's step away from this style. I loved The Little Horses. Zion's Walls shares a linkage with The Promise of Living from the opera The Tender Land - a work we will come back to. These versions, accompanied by the composer, are in mono from 1951 and 1953. A decade or so later he recorded the orchestral arrangement of both sets. These are on volume 3.

In 1949 Oscar Levant best known for his Gershwin and Tchaikovsky, not to mention his Hollywood connections, went into the Columbia 30th Street studios in 1949 to record three extracts from Billy the Kid. These are arrangements made by Lukas Foss. The Open Prairie has been issued before. Levant trips along in a tart combination of Shostakovich and Kurt Weill in the Celebration Dance - one can hear where Kapustin might have absorbed some of his influences.

Volume 3

CD1

The Dickinson Songs sound much better here with Addison's slender and less worldly tone a much closer match to the childhood sentiments of the songs. Warfield sounds better in the orchestral version of the American Songs with much greater colour and richness of expressiveness in the full instrumentation. In In the Beginning Mildred Miller sounds very much the operatic soprano and this contrasts with The Lark which sounds suspiciously like Britten's Saint Cecilia. In the Beginning was recorded many years ago by the Gregg Smith Singers on Everest. I still have that LP. The New England Chorus are a smallish choir. They are skilful pieces both but, at least for this listener, they fail to engage emotionally. Technically they are great showpieces and would challenge any choir.

CD2 [75.00]

The Tender Land can, in the broadest brush terms, be thought of as an extension onto an operatic stage of Copland's Appalachian manner. This is crossed with the merest dash of Broadway.

The cast here does not miss a beat. I wish that CBS had chosen to record the whole opera. Just occasionally a recording project works with devastating aptness. This is one of those instances. When the artists walked into the Manhattan Center on 31 July 1965 who would have thought that such an indelible, moving, viscerally exciting, emotionally animated experience would emerge? The text, by the way, is by Genevieve Taggard who also wrote the text for The Lark.

Laurie is sung by Joy Clements (sop) and her openness and spontaneity repay dividends. She sounds as you would imagine Laurie to sound - on the edge of womanhood, excited, fearful, unalloyed by experience. Richard Cassilly (an extremely good Troilus in Walton's Troilus and Cressida) as Laurie's lover, the weak and malleable Martin, who abandons Laurie, is a passionate tenor whose operatic career did not cloud his ability to project with touching clarity. He reaches out to his audience time after time. The more cynical, worldly and calculating Top is Richard Fredericks. Norman Treigle is Grandpa Moss.

I defy you to resist frisson after frisson as you hear this glorious work. Listen to the wondrous climax to The Promise of Living [tr. 7] - those horns calling out and the voices hitting both their top notes and emotional 'mot juste'. We've Been North, We've been south is given rhythmically split-second delivery by the two anti-heroes. Then try the cross-cut Orff-ian patterning of Stomp You Foot [tr. 11]. Desert Island stuff. A cool Delian nocturnal impressionism enriches The World Seems Still Tonight. The orchestral depiction of the sunrise in track 16 The Sun is Coming Up is worth sampling as well. Really molten music making!

This work and this recording are far too little known. Do not expect opera with lashings of vibrato, with opera-house conventionality, with adipose attitude. Copland blows fresh air through the conventions with a poignant pastoralism close to Patrick Hadley on the one hand and showland Bernstein and Sondheim on the other.

Rob Barnett


DISC CONTENTS
Vol. 1:

Fanfare for the Common Man
LSO/composer, Walthamstow, 26-29 Oct 1968
Rodeo
LSO/composer, Walthamstow, 26 Oct 1968
Billy The Kid,
LSO/composer, Walthamstow, Nov 1969
El Salon Mexico
New Philharmonia/composer, EMI 31 May 1972
Danzon Cubano,
LSO/composer, EMI 9-10 Nov 1970
Quiet City
William Lang (trumpet)/Michael Winfield (English Horn)/LSO/composer, Walthamstow, 6 Nov 1969
Down a Country Lane,
LSO/composer, Walthamstow, 26 Oct 1968
Appalachian Spring (original chamber version), + rehearsal sequence
Columbia Chamber Ensemble/composer, rec Columbia Studios, 9-11 May 1973
Nonet
Columbia String Ensemble/composer rec 799, 7th Ave, NY City, 6 Apr 1962
Vol. 2:

Vitebsk
members of Juilliard, composer (piano), Columbia 30th St Studio, NYC, 27-28 Oct 1966
Sextet
Harold Wright (cl), composer (piano) Juilliard Quartet Columbia 30th St Studio, NYC, 27-28 Oct 1966
Piano Quartet
composer (piano) Juilliard Quartet (members of) Columbia 30th St Studio, NYC, 27-28 Oct 1966
Duo
Elaine Shaffer (fl), composer (piano), Columbia 30th St Studio, NYC, 11-14 Dec 1972,
Lincoln Portrait
Carl Sandburg (orator), NYPO/Kostelanetz, NYC 16 Mar 1958
Dickinson Poems
Martha Lipton (sop)/composer (piano) rec 30th street studio, NYC, 22 Dec 1950, 4 Apr 1952
Old American Songs
William Warfield (bar)/composer (piano) rec 30th street studio, NYC, 16 Aug 1951, 18 Aug 1953
Billy (excerpts)
Oscar Levant (piano) rec 30th street studio, NYC, 1 Sept 1949
Vol. 3:

Dickinson Poems
Adele Addison/composer (piano)
rec 30th St studio, NYC, 16 Nov 1964
Old American Songs
William Warfield (bar) / Columbia SO / composer rec Manhattan Center NYC 3 and 4 May 1962.
In the Beginning; Lark
Mildred Miller (sop - In the Beginning), Robert Hale (bar - Lark) New England Conservatory Chorus/composer
rec 30th St studio, NYC, 29 Mar 1965
The Tender Land
Laurie - Joy Clements (sop)
Ma Moss - Clara-Mae Turner (mz)
Grandpa Moss - Norman Treigle (bar)
Martin - Richard Cassilly (ten)
Top - Richard Fredericks (bar)
Choral Arts Society
NYPO/composer
rec Manhattan Center, NYC, 31 July 1965


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