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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Full tracklist at end of review 
SONY 88697 70047 2 [205:20]

Experience Classicsonline


CD 1
Rawness and ringing resonance make Copland's famous Fanfare shine. So it proves with the composer's 1968 LSO version from London's Walthamstow Town Hall. Tilson Thomas and the SFSO find pastoral tension, hushed fragility and a super-taut precise terpsichore in their complete Appalachian spring from 1999. It's only a pity that the whole ballet is given as a single 35+ minute track. This reading rivals the composer's own version on the same label. The step to analogue for the 1965 composer-led Quiet City is announced by an increasingly inconspicuous bed of hiss. This essay in neon mall and boulevard solitude registers most sharply. The concentrated little Clarinet Concerto is shaped with a few rough edges yet with the authority of the commissioning artist by Benny Goodman. It is paced to introspective perfection. The other soloists are harpist Laura Newell (who recorded the Bax Quintet in the early days of LP) and the pianist, Abba Bogin. It moves through a slow-dripping pavane to Bergian-dense intensity to a central dance with honey-sharpened edges.
 
CD 2
I have always loved An Outdoor Overture with its out-West brashness and revels in evening-fall trumpetry - why didn't Copland write a Trumpet Concerto? The work has a propulsion and turbo-zip suggestive of Walton's and Moeran's concert overtures and rhapsodies. Time has taken its toll here and the violins have a rasp that once I never noticed. I love the tension release at 6:45 onward as the music accelerates through joy into grandeur into brash. It's great fun and well worth tracking down. Next come the two cowboy ballet suites recorded by Bernstein and the NYPO in 1959-60. Not my favourite Copland but they have their moments such as the Stravinskian rough-blown moments in The Open Prairie. I noticed touches of Vitebsk, Weill and klezmer in Celebration. The final segment of Billy - The Open Prairie again - sustains the transition into Lincoln Portrait. The Portrait is another Copland work of considerable majesty. I have always had a weakness for music with orator and music as in RVW's Oxford Elegy and Bliss's Morning Heroes. I hope one day to hear a good recording of Roy Harris's Tenth Symphony (also with orator and also with a Lincoln theme) but until then Copland's Lincoln Portrait as recorded in London for the orchestra with Henry Fonda's vocal tracks added in NYC three years later. It works with grace and majesty. The work is laid out in three tracks. Fonda does not go in for dramatisation - it’s all rather flat and unassuming; in fact that very modesty paradoxically supercharges the music. The message - especially the references to the tyrannical principle - must have got under the skin of America’s anti-communist gaggle. The disc ends with another glowing gem, this time from The Tender Land which I ‘learnt’ from a tape of that CBS LP of highlights. Here John Williams directs Boston Pops forces. The Promise of Living still has the power to send goose pimples down my spine from the nape of the neck to the feet. It is delightful … as in full of delight. There is something of Russian crowd scenes in this and again the words “with sharing and joint effort” may well have touched off the bigotry of 1950s America; any suggestion of collective effort being anathema in many circles.
 
CD 3
Copland's many visits to London for concerts and recording sessions bore fruit in 1972. He joined with the New Philharmonia for the Appalachia-mode music for the film The Red Pony. Corral speaks of prairie loneliness then rangy and brazen dazzle. Warfield's Old American Songs (set 1) is a classic of poetry and is almost Delian in the first song and in Long Time Ago. The songs also encompass raw vaudeville, gawky fairground, cheap gaudy and novelty comic. The latter in I bought me a cat.
 
Copland was subjected to the McCarthy show-trial sessions in the 1950s. Their conduct provided uneasy echoes of the harangues of the Roland Freisler trials in Nazi Germany. While Copland emerged with some dignity Hollywood promptly dropped Copland. Music for Movies is a suite of film music pre-dating the severed parting of the ways. They sample both bustle and rustic idylls from The City, Of Mice and Men and Our Town.
 
The two movement Piano Concerto has Copland as pianist and Bernstein conducting. It has pride of last place here with its jazzy dissonance and angularity rendered without a flinch. It recalls Stravinsky's Ragtime and that composer’s more challenging works for piano and orchestra. It does however rise to some glowing heights in the second movement which Bernstein and Copland beat and roar out with great swaying and stomping power. There is a touch here of Arnold's Concerto for Phyllis and Cyril.
 
Largely absent from this set is anything at all thorny or dissonant. The works of the 1960s and 1970s such as Inscape, Connotations and the Piano Quartet. Also missing is the very popular El Salon Mexico - perhaps its being south of the Rio Grande dictated its omission.
 
For contrast and a far wider Copland range you could try to track down three two CD sets issued in 2002: A Copland Celebration.   

Rob Barnett

See also reviews of the Barber, Bernstein, Ives and Williams sets.

Track listing
Fanfare for the Common Man, for brass & percussion (from Symphony No. 3) 3:19
London Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland
 
Appalachian Spring, ballet for 13 instruments 35:52
San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas
 
Quiet City, complete incidental music 9:53
London Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland
 
Clarinet Concerto 16:55
Abba Bogin (Piano), Benny Goodman (Clarinet), Columbia Symphony Orchestra Laura Newell (Harp) Columbia Symphony Orchestra Aaron Copland
 
An Outdoor Overture 8:59
London Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland 
 
Rodeo, selections from the ballet (including "Four Dance Episodes") 18:25
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein
 
Billy the Kid, orchestral suite from the ballet 20:16
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein
 
Lincoln Portrait, for speaker & orchestra 15:08
London Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland
 
The Tender Land, opera - (The Promise of Living) 5:38
John Williams Boston Pops Orchestra
 
The Red Pony, suite for orchestra 24:35
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Aaron Copland
 
Old American Songs, for voice & piano, Book 1 12:24
William Warfield (Baritone)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland
 
The City, documentary film score - (New England Countryside) 6:13
Of Mice and Men, film score - (Barley Wagons) 2:36
The City, documentary film score - (Sunday Traffic) 2:45
Our Town, film score - (Grover’s Corner) 3:14
Of Mice and Men, film score - (Threshing Machines) 3:07
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Aaron Copland
 
Piano Concerto 16:10
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein

 


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