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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Quiet City (1939-40) [10:22]
Symphony no. 3 (1944-46) [39:31]
Appalachian Spring – suite (1944) [23:19]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky
rec. 1945/46, Symphony Hall, Boston (Quiet City), Carnegie Hall, (Symphony) and Hunter College, New York City (Appalachian Spring)
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC458 [73:09]

These Copland performances were directed by Koussevitzky as part of three separate programmes given in New York and Boston in 1945-46. All were recorded on acetate discs.

Quiet City is the earliest to have been recorded, in March 1945 – the only Boston performance here. It receives a finely paced and atmospheric reading, lucid and expressive, graced by a rich string wash of sound, its fervent lyricism revealing the Russian conductor’s strong identification with the music. Louis Speyer is the named cor anglais player, and he is both more secure and more technically adroit on this occasion than trumpeter Georges Mager, whose fluty vibrato and bugle-like tone are certainly characterful, if not wholly persuasive. Appalachian Spring (13 April 1946) was recorded whilst the Boston Symphony were in Hunter College, NYC in April 1946. This is a gem of a performance, wonderfully passionate, richly detailed but sweepingly evocative. It even beats Koussevitzky’s own well-loved commercial recording for heart-stopping warmth and excitement.

The Third Symphony (16 November 1946), with pianist Lukas Foss, was performed at Carnegie Hall. Commissioned by the conductor and premiered by him in Boston’s Symphony Hall the previous month, this was only its fourth performance and is now the work’s first known recording. What’s more this is the only extant recording of Koussevitzky conducting it. These chains of historical interest thrum with significance but the thrumming would be significantly less potent were the performance unsure, badly executed or in poor sound. Fortunately, despite some apologies as to the state of preservation of the discs, and the sound quality. from Andrew Rose – who has carried out expert remedial work – the whole aural experience is perfectly acceptable for the time-frame and all the more so, in fact, given the rarity of the source material.

Dynamics register well with Koussevitzky taking passages in the opening movement down to a bare whisper. Balances emerge in natural perspective too. Though the acetate scratch is certainly audible – unavoidable so at times – it’s not too steely or distracting. Foss makes his mark in the Andantino where the high winds pierce the expressive intensity that Koussevitzky so expertly marshals. The well-known Fanfare theme in the opening of the finale incites some exciting wind playing – vivid and characterful – before the conductor unleashes a truly trenchant close.

This valuable restoration succeeds in establishing an early interpretative benchmark for the Third Symphony and in drawing together commissioner and work in a way never before possible.

Jonathan Woolf


 

 



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