This recording comes on a hybrid SACD disc
which is compatible with standard audio CD players. As I
have only a standard audio CD player, I cannot review the
SACD portion of the disc, only the audio CD part.
The bulk of the disc is taken up with suites
from two of Copland’s most well known ballet scores.
The opening movement of the Billy the Kid
suite (The Open Prairie) sets the scene beautifully, and
this is probably where the recording is at its best, lending
a wide open and very spatial feeling to the music. This
feeling continues into ‘Street in a Frontier Town’ and ‘Mexican Dance
and Finale’ where the tempo and texture build as the scene
fills with people. A lovely atmospheric ‘Prairie Night’ scene
is followed by a tense and increasingly frenzied ‘Gun Battle’ scene
in which the percussion section come to the fore with some
excellent drum and xylophone playing. The following scene
(Celebration) is probably the one where I would have favoured
a closer feel to the recording, such as that provided by
the Bernstein/NYPO recording which is slower and allows Copland’s
spiky orchestration to come through fully, in particular
the piano, which is somewhat lost at times in this recording.
However, it really doesn’t detract too much from what is
still an excellent performance. The last two scenes (‘Billy’s
Death’ and ‘The Open Prairie (reprise)’) bring back the
feeling of the opening and bring the work to a fitting
Following the suite is an extra track,
the Waltz, which does not form a part of the orchestral suite,
but comes into the ballet score as part of the dream sequence.
This is a lovely and melodious piece which brings out the
best of the orchestra in some sensitive and delicate playing,
although there is no more than a passing reference to its
inclusion in the booklet and this does not really justify
its inclusion as more than a filler.
This is followed by the suite from the
ballet, Rodeo. The first piece (Buckaroo Holiday) is the
longest and is very rich and varied in texture and feel,
requiring some excellent individual playing from various
members of the orchestra. We get this and more, as the
natural echo in the ballroom studio is used to enhance
the feel of
the music - I particularly liked the way that the trumpet
and trombone solos were allowed to fully fade away at the
end of each phrase. The ‘Corral Nocturne’ is beautifully
played where the emphasis is very much on the dreamlike
This is followed by a second ‘extra’, ‘Honky
Tonk Interlude’, which on this occasion comes in the middle
of the suite, and is enhanced by the fact that Morton Gould
has employed a genuine honky-tonk piano together with out
of tune piano strings and all. It is really for the listener
to decide if this inclusion enhances from the recording or
detracts from it. I don’t feel that it is too out of keeping
with the spirit of the work as a whole, but perhaps it ought
to have been added at the end as an ‘extra’, rather than
being inserted into the middle of the suite.
The ‘Saturday Night Waltz’ is a slow and
languid affair followed by a suitably lively ‘Hoe-Down’,
which brings out all of the movement’s natural exuberance.
Overall, the recording of the two Copland
suites is superb. The performances are excellent, both
technically and artistically. For me, the greatest triumph
is that they
capture the spirit of the pioneering ‘Wild West’ so thoroughly,
and clearly demonstrate Morton Gould’s deep appreciation
of the work and its spirit.
The final work on the disc is the Grofé ‘Grand
Canyon Suite’, which is cinematic in its scope and the orchestra
on this recording is superb. In the last two pieces, use
is made of an echo chamber in re-recording parts of the score
(the two trombones in ‘On The Trail’ are also played through
megaphones in the studio!).
The first piece (Sunrise) is suitably atmospheric
and spacious, while Painted Desert uses the percussion section
to great effect. I was very impressed with the use of the
orchestra in On The Trail - Morton Gould here uses the tempo
of the work to great effect, the slightly awkward duplets
of the temple blocks against the general 6/8 giving the work
a comic feel, which is exploited just enough, but not so
much that it feels vulgar. The horn section dominates in
Sunset, in the recording, the horn players are separated
throughout the studio to give a real feeling of sound echoing
as the orchestra swells to a climax and then fades. The final
piece (Cloudburst) brings back the gentle meandering feel
of the opening piece before a storm breaks, represented in
this work swooping tremolando strings, huge piano
runs and plenty of percussion.
Overall, the performance really does bring
some verve into the three works outlined, the two ballet
suites are spacious and bring out Copland’s very individual
style and use of the orchestra, while in the Grofé suite
the cinematic scope of the work is brought to the fore.
I would recommend it very highly to anyone interested in