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Aaron COPLAND (1900 - 1990)
Rodeo (complete ballet) (1942) [24:49]
Dance Panels (1959) [26:17]
El Salón México (1936) [11:55]
Danzón Cubano (1942) [7:12]
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
rec. Orchestra Hall, Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit, 9-11 Nov 2012 (Rodeo), 12-14 Oct 2012. DDD
NAXOS 8.559758 [70:13]

In the late 1980s, Naxos released a perfectly decent bargain version of Rodeo, recorded in Bratislava under the direction of Stephen Gunzenhauser. Listening to it again it’s still very enjoyable. However, the label has steadily progressed over the years and in this latest offering Rodeo isn’t just a good bargain version. It’s a very good version at any price and should be snapped up by anyone remotely interested in the music of Aaron Copland. 
In Rodeo Leonard Slatkin doesn’t match the snappy, hard driven virtuosity of Bernstein on CBS - nobody does - but many find that disc lacking in relaxation and quite wearing. The general approach in Detroit is somewhat more laid-back - refined, even - but that doesn’t imply that the execution isn’t rhythmically tight. This is playing of the highest calibre and time and again Slatkin reveals details that can be hidden or glossed over in other recordings. The timings for the opening Buckaroo Holiday are 7:00 (Bernstein) and 7:55 (Slatkin). In listening to both, putting the hair-raising Bernstein virtuosity to one side for a moment, I find the Slatkin to be more engaging and involving. It doesn’t just pass you by; it draws you in. From the opening bars you hear a deep sonorous bottom end, full-toned brass, clean string sound and biting transients. Later on the throatily realistic double bass section introduces some trombone playing that just about stays this side of becoming tasteless. The glissandi are pretty outrageous but it’s a piece that’s full of fun at the end of the day. The extended version of Saturday Night Waltz includes an entertaining honky-tonk piano solo. Corral Nocturne is suitably sensuous and the concluding Hoe-Down clocks in at 4:47 compared to 3:06 (Bernstein), 3:16 (Gunzenhauser) and 3:18 (Johanos/Dallas, a fine disc on Vox). These timings are somewhat misleading. Admittedly, Slatkin does take the music at a slightly slower tempo than usual but he also includes a substantial section of music that isn’t to be heard in the other recordings. It brings Rodeo to a very satisfying conclusion.
 
I have never heard Dance Panels before and quite frankly I’m amazed that such a great piece has been so overlooked. The music is closer to the sound-worlds of Quiet City and Appalachian Spring and makes a welcome contrast to the preceding Rodeo. The music is gentle, ruminative and sophisticated in nature. Even in the more invigorating passages such as the Scherzando of the third movement and the mercurial Con brio of the fifth section (a percussion showcase) the orchestration remains controlled and the very opposite of brash. The woodwind excel throughout and there are some gorgeous sonorities and beautiful tunes. This is Copland at his finest and it’s quite a find. I challenge anyone not to fall for this music.
 
The two fillers are despatched with aplomb. El Salón México is superb, opening as it does with its sleazy trumpet solo and cheeky bassoons. Slatkin yet again demonstrates that music such as this doesn’t have to be fast and furious to make its mark. The slow sections conjure up scenes of lazy days in the sun and that’s what Mexico, as pictured by the composer, should be all about isn’t it? The playing is never over the top. It’s done with great taste and refinement but there’s not one boring bar to be heard. All the orchestral soloists have a field day. The closing bars are as thrilling as you could wish for. The concluding Danzón Cubano, one of Copland’s real pot-boilers, brings the disc to a rousing end.
 
In summary, this is a great CD featuring top recommendations for Rodeo and El Salón México and a wonderful rarity in the shape of Dance Panels that I urge everyone to hear. The Detroit Orchestra, in superb form for their inspirational conductor, are captured in spectacular and beautiful sound.  

John Whitmore
 
See also review by Gwyn Parry-Jones

Reviews of Copland on Naxos American Classics