Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Three Latin-American Sketches (1959/1971)
Quiet City (1940)
Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (1947)
Appalachian Spring (1944)
Laura Arden (clarinet)
Nashville Chamber Orchestra/Paul Gambill
Recorded at Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee, USA, March and November 2001
NAXOS 8.559069 [62.47]


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In many ways this is a typical Naxos disc. Four standard works, repertoire pieces (I think that over the last few years I have heard them all at the Proms and I don’t go every week of the season) in fine and idiomatic performances, all beautifully recorded by a lesser known orchestra or ensemble. One knows that for each work there is probably a slightly better or more exciting performance lurking somewhere in one’s library or even a finer recording, possibly one by Copland himself or Bernstein or another musician of historic importance. But you also know that as a whole the disc is a delight and, at less than £5 in the UK, one that can easily be packed into the shopping trolley without too much pain.

Let’s take the Clarinet Concerto. This is perhaps the finest Clarinet Concerto of the twentieth century. Benny Goodman, a jazz artist primarily, who in the end recorded it twice, and who immediately springs to mind when one considers how it might be performed. Most top players will have it in their repertoire but it doesn’t play itself. The performer must put a very great deal of themselves into it. Laura Arden is poised and elegant and when necessary rhythmically alert and powerful but not especially jazzy. I find her upper register a little pinched and I much prefer the opening in the wonderful version by Stanley Drucker with Bernstein on DG (431 672-2) interestingly coupled with ‘Connotations’ and ‘Music for the Theatre’. Drucker’s experience and fine technique particularly come to the fore in the virtuoso finale; very athletic and yet with elegant phrasing.

‘Appalachian Spring’ recorded here in its Original Ballet Suite version is a beautiful reading with ideal tempi, well balanced and wonderfully sustained especially in the final pages. But I listened again to Bernstein’s 1961 recording (my version is an elderly CD on the now defunct CBS label but I believe that it could be available on Sony) and I was immediately struck by the stronger attack made by the New York Philharmonic in the Allegro movements - particularly the first. The quicker tempo is helpful and overall Bernstein is one minute quicker than Gambill.

Another advantage that Bernstein’s version has and indeed others, is that the seven individual sections of the work are separately tracked to enable you to find your favourite bit, for example the shaker song ‘A Gift to be simple’. Naxos however put the whole work under one track heading. As I’ve said before, there is a cost implication?

When it comes to ‘Three-Latin American Sketches’ (incidentally Copland’s last Orchestral work) I was much taken with the exciting articulation Gambill achieves in the third one entitled ‘Danza de Jalico’ and in the first. However the second one ‘Paisaje Mexicana’ is surely too slow and languid.

As for ‘Quiet City’ both soloists Paula Engere (cor anglais) and Scott Moore (trumpet) play with lyrical, legato phrasing as if dreamily improvising, an effect, which is just right in this most atmospheric of Copland scores.

So, to sum up … If you are new to Copland then this is a very good place to start. While these performances will almost never disappoint if you already have these pieces in your collection then probably it’s best to hang on to your money.

Booklet notes by and biographies by Viola Roth are helpful and clear, and the acoustic and recording unproblematic.

Gary Higginson

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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