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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Rodeo, complete ballet [24:50]
Dance Panels, ballet [26:20]
El Salón Mexico [11:52]
Danzón Cubano [7:06]
Detroit Symphony/Leonard Slatkin
rec. 12-14 October 2012; 9-11 November 2012 (Rodeo), Max M. Fisher Music Center, Detroit, Michigan
NAXOS 8.559758 [70:08] 

The original cover art for this album said that it came with Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, the suite which has become famous in concert-halls all over the globe, ending as it does with Copland's most famous piece, the Hoe Down. This is actually the complete Rodeo, meaning there's five minutes of bonus material, including extra passages in the Nocturne and Hoe Down and an entirely new dance (making five) called Ranch House Party.
 
The original, misleading cover shipped to many stores, but Naxos rushed in a corrected cover saying Rodeo (Complete Ballet) on the internet. The digital copy (I downloaded MP3s from ClassicsOnline for this review) still comes with an uncorrected booklet. So If you see two CDs with different covers advertising the Detroit Symphony and Leonard Slatkin playing Rodeo, they are in fact identical.
 
Confusion over the release of this CD shouldn't distract us from another, happier truth: this is a fantastic complete Rodeo. It's rare enough to hear the full piece, and then add flawless conducting by Leonard Slatkin - who's recorded the piece several times before - and inspired solo work by the trombone, bassoons and even basses. The saloon-style upright piano solo in Ranch House Party, which sounds ripped from Blazing Saddles, is by itself worth the entire price of the CD, the pianist's one rhythmic stutter forgivable in light of the razzle-dazzle and stylistic oomph (s)he brings. I love how the cellos and basses dig into the Hoe Down. In fact, I love everything about this performance and, having heard it numerous times now, feel confident saying it's my first-choice Rodeo … including Copland's own recording.
 
That's not even the main course, which is the rarer ballet Dance Panels … or wait - since we were talking about the full Rodeo and not the suite, maybe it's not that much rarer after all. Dance Panels, almost a half-hour long, is vintage Copland, a full expression of his mature style. I suspect its lack of popularity is because all the faster, more exciting music is near the end. For much of the piece, Dance Panels is more intimate and domestic, without the easy populism of Rodeo or the two works that follow on this programme, Danzón Cubano and El Salón Mexico. This is, again, a performance that fully captures the composer's spirit.
 
The performances here seem live - there's a cough here and there - which makes the achievement of the orchestra all the more noteworthy. It also makes the sound quality's richness surprising. This would be a valuable addition to a Copland collection even if it didn't have my first-choice Rodeo, but since it does, it's mandatory.
 
Brian Reinhart

See also reviews by Gwyn Parry-Jones and John Whitmore

Reviews of Copland on Naxos American Classics