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American Classics
George GERSHWIN (1898 - 1937)
An American in Paris
(1928) [19:56]
Aaron COPLAND (1900 - 1990)
Ballet Suite: Billy the Kid (1938) [24:17]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918 - 1990)
Symphonic Dances
from West Side Story (1957-61) [24:30]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/John Baltimore
rec. 12-13 July 2006, Blackheath Halls, London. DDD
RPO 019 [68:44]
Experience Classicsonline


American classical music doesn’t come more popular than this! These three scores are echt Americana. The holidaymaker, or ex-pat, in a foreign country and his feelings of homesickness, the baddy in the Wild West and New York street gangs. What more could you ask for? Yet the subject matter is in each case diametrically opposed to the music.

Starting in a very cool, almost nonchalant manner, our American in Paris seems uninterested in his surroundings. Then I played it again at a louder volume and the performance sprang to life. The transfer to CD from master recording - or whatever technical gubbins the manufacturer does to get the music onto the disc - is at a low level, so an increase of the volume control is essential. I had originally written that this was a poor performance and I believed it to be so, until I made this slight adjustment. Now I can hear it, I hear a fine performance, slightly hindered by the “low cut” - or whatever the expression is - of the disc. The acoustic has a bit of a feeling of a big empty room but your ears will adjust quite quickly.

Copland’s exciting suite from his cowboy ballet Billy the Kid must also be played at a loud volume. Then it really sings! As the slow introduction grows a sense of stature appears and by the first climax there is strength and power in the interpretation. Here is the open prairie, right in front of us, big and empty. Then we’re in the street of a frontier town. With glorious orchestration and the most gorgeously lyrical writing for the trombones things really get under way. This section ends with my favourite cowboy song - Goodbye Old Paint. The ensuing Nocturne is quite magical - some fine trumpet playing here. The gunfight is thrilling and the dance of celebration is as jaunty as one could ask for. In the end the music returns to the mood of the opening and the wide prairie. It’s a wonderful piece. This performance is played very well indeed and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If I have one quibble it’s that at times the high violins take on a slightly wiry sound.

Things change radically for the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. The recording is much better - brighter and clearer. The performance is electrifying and has a dynamism which isn’t quite matched in the other two works. Highlights include a fiery Mambo, a truly menacing double fugue in Cool, and a Rumble to beat the best. The coda, based on Somewhere, is meltingly lovely, despite the undercurrents of the augmented fourth.

For sheer enjoyment this is well worth the outlay.

Bob Briggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 


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