Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Appalachian Spring: Suite (1944-45) [25:26]
Symphony No 2 Short Symphony (1930-33) [15:40]
Quiet City (1939-41) [9:26]
Three Latin American Sketches (1959-72) [10:20]
Susan Palma (flute); David Singer (clarinet); Frank Morelli; Wu Han (piano) (Appalachian Spring); Stephen Taylor (cor anglais); Raymond Mase (trumpet) (Quiet City).
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
rec. March 1988, Performing Arts Center, State University of New York, Purchase, New York, USA. DDD
I recall this Orpheus Chamber Orchestra release on Deutsche Grammophon 427 335-2 back in 1989. It was especially well received. Now Brilliant Classics have issued these performances at super budget price which makes this a highly competitive release.
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra were founded in 1972 and are based in New York City. They employ a true collaborative approach, playing without a conductor and gaining an enviable reputation for performance excellence.
Almost certainly Copland’s most popular and instantly recognisable work, Appalachian Spring was composed in 1943/44 to a ballet commission from Martha Graham. On this release we hear the 1945 suite with chamber orchestration for 13 instruments plus extra strings. I was struck by the beauty of the playing. Wu Han’s piano contribution was especially distinctive; glorious contributions too from the woodwind and the glowing strings displayed impressive unison. The music evokes a romantic view of American frontier cowboy scenes. At 18:10 the inclusion of the engaging melody Simple Gifts - the traditional Shaker song - was a masterstroke.
The Short Symphony listed as the Symphony No. 2 was premièred in 1934. It’s very much neo-classical Copland. In a bid to gain more performances Copland in 1937 recast the score as a Sextet for clarinet, piano and string quartet. The Short Symphony is played here in a reduction for chamber orchestra arranged by Dennis Russell Davies. The opening movement is notable for its use of spiky rhythms, both unpredictable and complex. A rather stark yet clear landscape combines with surprisingly weighty textures in the central movement. Copland gives additional complexity to the leaping and dancing rhythms in the finale played here with infectious vitality and broad dynamics.
Quiet City is an expressive and successful night-time evocation of a great city that never sleeps. Copland based the score on incidental music for an Irwin Shaw play. An often overlooked yet magnificent work, Quiet City is presented here in a pared down arrangement for chamber orchestra. The Orpheus aptly captures the stark intimacy and hauntingly reflective nature of a nocturnal urban landscape. I enjoyed Raymond Mase’s brooding trumpet and the cor anglais played by Stephen Taylor was noteworthy for its rich dark-coloured timbre.
The Three Latin American Sketches were not conceived a whole. The second and third movements started life as two Mexican pieces from 1959: Paisaje Mexicano and Danza de Jalisco were commissioned by Gian Carlo Menotti for the Spoleto Festival. At the request of conductor André Kostelanetz, Copland composed an additional movement Estribillo that he based on a melodic fragment from Venezuela.Now titled the Three Latin American Sketches the New York Philharmonic premièred the full score in 1972. Here the Sketches are played in a slimmed down arrangement for chamber orchestra. The opening sketch Estribillo is infused with highly spiced and pointed Latin rhythms. To a degree the brooding woodwind melodies in Paisaje Mexicano reminded me of the slow music from both Appalachian Spring and Quiet City. Lively and vivacious the final sketch Danza de Jalisco is played with high voltage and relentless intensity.
On this issue I was delighted by the clear sound quality and excellent balance. The booklet notes contain a new essay but it says nothing about the arrangements used. It is hard to find fault with this winning Brilliant Classics release so superbly performed and recorded.
Michael Cookson  

Hard to find fault with this winning Brilliant Classics release so superbly performed and recorded.