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CD: Crotchet


Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) [3:38)
Clarinet Concerto (1948) [15:44]
Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo (1942) [22:47]
Appalachian Spring (1944) [36:41]
David Shifrin (clarinet); New York Chamber Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz (Concerto); Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra/Enrique Bátiz (Fanfare); Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin (Spring; Rodeo)
rec. details not given
Experience Classicsonline

This issue represents fantastic value for Copland lovers, or indeed those who simply want to explore his music.  Starting from his most familiar work - and incidentally one of the best-known pieces of 20th century music - the Fanfare for the Common Man, we move, via the delightful Clarinet Concerto, to two of the famous ballet scores, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. The ‘added value’ is that these last two are given complete, rather than in the slightly shorter concert versions we usually hear.  So we get the cheeky Piano Interlude in Rodeo (track 7), while in Appalachian Spring there is, for example, a magical passage where the ‘Simple Gifts’ melody is suggested in slow tempo by the strings before its full presentation in the clarinet (track 14, 2:45).
To get over the only disappointment right away, it has to be said that the Mexico City Philharmonic brass and percussion turn in a tentative, pallid performance of the famous fanfare under Bátiz.  I just hope that potential buyers will not be put off, because the Clarinet Concerto performance that comes next, with David Shifrin, ably supported by Schwarz and his New York forces, sets a very high standard indeed, which is maintained throughout the remaining tracks.
Shifrin is an exceptionally fine player who captures the varying moods of the concerto perfectly.  He has the necessary control for the gentle melancholy of the first movement – marked Slowly and Expressively – and the sheer technical bravado for the jazzy finale.  Perhaps his finest achievement, though, is the cadenza which joins the two movements.  Here, the clarinettist has to negotiate a gradual change of mood from melancholy to wild physical exuberance.  Shifrin does this as successfully as any player I’ve heard, a tribute to his perceptive musicianship. The balance between soloist and orchestra is perfect - no mean task as Copland often takes the clarinet to its extreme high register, where it can sound unpleasantly shrill.  The otherwise excellent account on Naxos by Laura Ardan is compromised by this very problem.
The first of the two ballets, Rodeo, is given a rollicking account by Slatkin and his St. Louis players.  They convey brilliantly the sheer fun of this music, its bright primary colours, its restless rhythmic vitality.  Gloriously corny trombone and trumpet solos in the opening movement, Buckaroo Holiday, and, after a very slightly untidy opening, the tightest possible ensemble allied to a sense of spontaneity.  The quieter music is beautifully played, too, for example an expressively phrased oboe solo in Saturday Night Waltz.  The famous and irresistible Hoe-Down brings the piece to a close in a manic whirl.
These complementary qualities of fizzing energy and gentle lyricism are carried through into a superb account of Appalachian Spring, felt by many, and with some justification, to be Copland’s finest masterpiece.  The sense of space that Slatkin achieves in the quiet opening music, and whenever it recurs, is breathtaking.  It enabled me to make a link that had never occurred to me before; Copland was the child of Russian immigrants, and if this music recalls anything, it is the opening of Borodin’s tone-poem In the Steppes of Central Asia.  You can take the boy out of Russia, but…..! 
I just wish Classics for Pleasure would ‘package’ these discs a bit more generously; a little information about conductors and soloist wouldn’t take up much room, and neither would full details of recording dates and venues. A small carp (as the fisherman complained). This is a truly outstanding issue packed with great things.
Gwyn Parry-Jones

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