These historic recordings works are linked by wartime
and the premonition of war. The Copland works belong to the war years
- both post-Pearl Harbour. Appalachian Spring was when recorded here
still work 'hot off the presses'. It was a ballet with a ballet reputation
rather than concert music. It is done with deliciously rushed slides
and deep-running bass-heavy figures (13.45). Koussevitsky relishes the
Stravinskian influence which is, in his hands, very strong indeed -
direct from Le Sacre and Petrushka. In addition Koussevitsky
does tender duty to the more plaintive voices (e.g. 16.22). Holstian
and Respighi influences can be heard at 18.52. He makes a real Abschied
out of the last five minutes. This suddenly becomes the centre of gravity
of the whole piece - giving it symphonic weight.
The Hanson with its Pohjolan and Brucknerian rumblings
is a pioneer recordings as are all of these tracks. The symphony only
flags in the finale where the pesante element weighs down the sense
of direction. There is Sibelian pert wind writing aplenty. Hanson tries
in the andante tranquillo to build the breadth of his great free-ranging
theme in his Romantic Symphony. He just misses. He builds some surprisingly
sinister visions as well - especially in the finale. His opera Merry
Mount (will that work ever be recorded in modern sound?) was the
quarry for this Breughel-Dali surrealism. Koussevitsky takes his time
- all the time in the world! The largamente does not work as
it should ending up far too ponderously rhapsodic.
The Lincoln Portrait has all the usual stirring strengths.
What impresses though is the sudden poignant tenderness of the music
for the words 'He was born in Kentucky'. This has been done well by
many others and in better recordings. My recommendations are James Earl
Jones on Delos and Charlton Heston on Vanguard. There were some quibbles
when this disc first appeared in 1998 but at bargain price there is
too much here to savour to let an allegedly synthetic sound quality
deny you the pleasure of this deeply felt music making. For my part
the sound quality was perfectly satisfactory. It is no barrier to enjoyment.