> Aaron Copland - 81st Birthday Concert [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
81st Birthday Concert at The Library of Congress
Zionís Walls (from Old American Songs Second Set 1952)
At the River (from Old American Songs Second Set 1952)
Simple Gifts (from Old American Songs First Set 1950)
The little Horses (from Old American Songs Second Set 1952)
Three Moods (piano solo) (1920-21)
Night Thoughts (piano solo) (1972)
Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson (1949-50)
Conversation with Aaron Copland, Donald L Leavitt and Leo Smit
Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano
Leo Smit, piano
Recorded at the Coolidge Auditorium of The Library of Congress 14th November 1981
BRIDGE BCD 9046 [58.18]

The Library of Congress organised a concert to celebrate Coplandís 81st birthday in November 1981. Jan DeGaetani (1933-1990) was a staunch supporter and proponent of the contemporary repertoire and especially that of her native country Ė many American composers had cause to be grateful to her for her idiomatic and expressive performances. Leo Smit had worked closely with her, as well as pursuing his own polymathic interests. He was also a notable exponent of Coplandís piano music. The recital ranged widely; piano works early (Three Moods, 1920-21) and late (Night Thoughts, 1972) and the mid period Dickinson settings, the centrepiece of the recital. To garnish the occasion still further there are some of the Old American Songs, principally the Second Set of 1952, with such old favourites emerging newly minted as Simple Gifts and At the River.

DeGaetaniís rich mezzo, well equalized throughout the scale, brings "true simplicity" to the Old American Songs, subtle in At the River (its "wrong note" pianism banishing complacency) and moving in Simple Gifts, with Smit providing the most adroitly effective of support in the rhythmically displaced piano accompaniment. He is equally convincing in the early Three Moods, originally given a French title, and according to the notes only receiving a first performance in 1981 a few months before this concert, with a dedication to Smit Ė though Iíve read elsewhere that Copland himself premiered them in concert at the time of their composition. The first is dissonant and fractious, the second a little glinting Debussyian affair, and the third a syncopated number with a show tune embedded in it. By way of immediate contrast Night Thoughts was composed for the 1972 Van Cliburn Piano Competition. With its widely spaced chords and slow, meditative sense of overlapping it makes an intriguing foil for the more youthfully combustible composer. The Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, Coplandís first major vocal work, date from 1949-50. They cover a wide variety of moods and feelings, impressions and sensibilities and Coplandís settings are ones of amplification and extension of the text whilst remaining true to the very personal idiom of the poems. Thus in the first setting, Nature the gentlest mother he hints in the piano part at the pastoral, whereas the succeeding There came a wind like bugle the bell tolling and violence of the setting mirror the textís violent unease Ė with DeGaetaniís downward extension on the final words exposing their dramatic finality. In The World feels dusty Copland provides a simple rocking accompaniment, a cradle song of anticipated death - elsewhere in the cycle evoking the loss and bewilderment explicit in the settings with a kind of trenchant simplicity. Sleep is supposed to be erupts with real violence, emphasised by the coldness of the acoustic, and in I felt a funeral in my brain whilst DeGaetani starts rather backward in the balance, the funereal tread in the piano leads on to wandering tonalities in the vocal line, well conveyed here, and an increasing sense of fracture and collapse. Coplandís piano accompaniments hint, suggest, elide, now spare, now furious, all the while managing to convey the myriad suggestible implications to be gleaned from the texts.

There is a charming talk, self-deprecatory and amusing, between Copland, Smit and Donald Leavitt of The Library of Congress and a delightful encore, The Little Horses. It was a memorable concert in the Coolidge Auditorium that November in 1981.

Jonathan Woolf

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