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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

Most Naxos discs represent excellent value; this one takes that to extremes. Seventy minutes plus is a good running length; then we have a programme of three Copland favourites, plus one masterpiece that has not been served so well in the catalogue. To top it off, these are really classy performances, brimming with style, wit and poetry. This is the first of a series of three discs that will include all six of Copland's ballets.
We begin with Rodeo, music that was originally created for a ‘cowboy’ ballet by Agnes de Mille (niece of Cecil B.). The stunning athleticism of the choreography was matched perfectly in Copland’s springy rhythms and bold scoring. Slatkin and his orchestra turn in a brilliantly idiomatic reading, matched by a perfectly balanced recording. I was delighted to find that, continuing with the theme of good value, that some of the ‘extra’ material from the original ballet music has been included, for example the Ranch House Party with its honky-tonk piano, coming between Corral Nocturne andSaturday Night Waltz.
This is followed by an inexplicably neglected masterpiece, Dance Panels, a comparatively late work, composed in 1959 and intended to be choreographed by the great Jerome Robbins. Oddly, Robbins developed the abstract dance into a ballet without music! So Copland’s score wasn’t heard until 1962, in a revised version, with the Bavarian State Opera at Munich - when it was not a success. The discouraging genesis of the work shouldn’t mislead us. This is wonderful and, as the composer noted, very “danceable” music, though of a far more serious and ‘abstract’ character than the three famous ballets.
The CD concludes with two shorter works from among Copland’s most popular; El Salón México is given a meticulous performance, though it lacks something in sheer bite and exuberance in the quicker sections - possibly the least satisfying track on the CD. Danzón Cubano, on the other hand, is terrific: brightly coloured, rhythmical, sun-drenched, full of humour and the faint taste of excellent rum - everything you’d expect from Cuba!
Gwyn Parry-Jones  

Reviews of Copland on Naxos