Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Quiet City (1939-40) [10:21]
Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson (1970) [23:09]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (1947) [17:51]
Capricorn Concerto (1944) [15:05]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Summertime (Porgy and Bess) (1934-5) [3:45]
April Fredrick (soprano)
Orchestra of the Swan/David Curtis
rec. live, Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, 29 May 2011.
SOMM CD0118 [70:20]
One of the main attractions of this album is the intelligent and imaginative planning - selecting and juxtaposing these American works. Buyers should however be aware that this is not the first time that at least three of these items have been presented together - EMI’s 1994 recording 5 55358 2 (see below) also links Barber (Knoxville) and Copland (Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson and Quiet City). All the items on this recording share the same sort of atmosphere and often the same weight of instrumentation even down to the highlighting of certain instruments - the trumpet for instance - playing a prominent part in Copland’s Quiet City, as a short solo in Barber’s Knoxville and more prominently in his Capricorn Concerto. Conductor David Curtis is an established figure working in the USA as well as Europe and the Far East. Moreover the Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) has welcomed visiting composers, soloists and conductors from America.
Copland’s Quiet City - for a psychological drama by Irwin Shaw - evokes, as in so many Copland works, a comfortable, comforting picture of small town Americana. It’s a small-scale nocturne beginning quietly, mistily as the city settles down to sleep. The music is serene, the mood calm and nostalgic until a broad hint of discord invades the peace. Copland explained that the piece was "an attempt to mirror the troubled main character of Irwin Shaw's play" - eschewing his Jewishness and his ambitions to write poetry, for marriage to a rich girl and the chance to become president of a department store. His conscience troubles him as he recalls the haunting sound of his brother's trumpet playing. Copland’s writing for the solo instrument is impressive: so plaintive and plangent.
Barber’s atmospheric portrait of a 1915 Knoxville summer evening is another warmly evocative piece and it has received several recordings. My personal favourite is with the more mellow tones of Barbara Hendricks delivering what sounds like authentic American inflexions, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. This was recorded in 1994 as EMI 5 55358 2 - and was later reissued in an all-Barber programme. This new recording is meritorious too: April Frederick is a lighter-toned soprano with a most pleasing timbre and impressive projection - she can certainly hold a long-sustained note with supreme artistry and confidence. Just listen to her doing just that in the final Gershwin Porgy and Bess ‘Summertime’. Listen also to how she and the OOTS touch the heart-strings in Knoxville’s final prayer section - ‘May God bless my people…’ Again the trumpet is there in a solo role in the louder brilliant mechanical evocation of the passing streetcar - all clangings and sparkings.
Copland’s Capricorn Concerto blends Bach and Stravinsky. It is named after the house Barber shared with his partner Gian-Carlo Menotti. The piece has the same scoring as Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto and the Stravinsky influence reminds one of Pulcinella and Petrushka. This is a nicely witty and acerbic reading.
Copland’s idiomatic writing illuminates the Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson. The lullaby-like ‘Nature, the gentlest mother’ is a lovely pastoral evocation. ‘Heart, we will forget him’, sad and forlorn, is nonetheless gorgeously, warmly scored for the strings with haunting brass figures. Themes of loss, death and eternity are prominent. The grand profundity of ‘Sleep is supposed to be’ contrasts with the child-like visions of ‘Going to Heaven’ with those heartfelt lines, ‘… If you should get there first, Save just a little place for me, Close to the two I lost!...’; and of ‘The Chariot’ where the singer rides with Death to eternity. April Fredericks empathises so well with these songs and the OOTS reveal all the subtleties of Copland’s sympathetic settings.
A very satisfying concert of American music.
A very satisfying concert.
‘Nature, the gentlest Mother’ [4:25]
‘There came a wind like a bugle’ [1:39]
‘The world feels dusty’ [2:01]
‘Heart, we will forget him’ [2:32]
‘Dear March, come in’ [2:27]
‘Sleep is supposed to be’ [3:07]
‘Going to Heaven!’ [2:57]
‘The Chariot’ [4:02])