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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Billy the Kid (1938) [21:08]
Appalachian Spring (1944) [35:52]
Rodeo (1942) [19:15]
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
Recorded in Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, 19-23 May 1999
BMG CLASSICS (RCA RED SEAL) 82876 65840 2 [76:29]

It seems only yesterday that this disc appeared for the first time. In fact it was five years ago - but only five years ago! I still remember the excitement with which I read the original reviews and impatiently ordered my first copy. I must say it's extraordinarily generous of RCA to reissue at bargain price discs of this quality - such splendid music, performances and recording! - when they're so 'young' and so well-filled. How lucky music-lovers are today! When I was in my early teens, and an avid collector of all the latest LPs, 37s 6d (or whatever it was in those far-off days) was an awful lot of money to part with for a new disc - and far more than my weekly pocket money. But you can't buy a decent snack meal for the cost of this CD!

I've headed this review exactly as RCA list the details on the CD itself. What they don't tell you is that, whereas Rodeo comprises the normal four-movement suite - Buckaroo Holiday, Corral Nocturne, Saturday Night Waltz and Hoe-Down - the Appalachian Spring we have here is the complete ballet score, not the oft-played and oft-recorded concert suite. This makes the disc quite special. In the shortened version, the variations on the celebrated 'Simple Gifts' tune are played in an uninterrupted sequence, whereas in the ballet they are broken by a disturbing episode (alluding to the "strange and terrible aspects of human fate" - Copland's words) which elicited some of the composer's most powerful and original music. And there are other differences too.

I do admire Tilson Thomas as a conductor of this repertory: he's perfectly matched to it. Of course there's been no shortage of expert and sympathetic home-grown or local interpreters of Copland over the 'stereo years' - Abravanel, Bernstein, Schwarz, Slatkin, or Copland himself - but none gives you more than Tilson Thomas. Everything's so fresh, spontaneous and alive, from the boisterous helter-skelter of Hoe Down to the whispering stillness of Appalachian Spring's dawn.

This is a superb disc, and - frankly - I can't think of a single (even trivial) disappointment or imperfection with which to detain you. Time to go out and buy!

Peter J Lawson

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