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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Copland Before the LP
Le chat et la souris (1920) [3:28]
Piano Variations (1930) [10:58]
Vitebsk (1929) [11:36]
Two Pieces for Violin and Piano (1926) [8:21]
Vocalise (1928) [4:09]
Danzón Cubano (1942) [6:58]
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1943) [18:21]
Two Pieces for Violin and Piano: No.1 Nocturne (1926) [4:31]
Four Piano Blues (1948) [8:24]
Aaron Copland (piano)
Leo Smit (piano)
Ivor Karman (violin): David Freed (cello)
Jacques Gordon (violin)
Ethel Luening (soprano)
Louis Kaufman (violin)
rec. 1928-49
PARNASSUS PACD96057 [76:29]

The title explains everything. Copland had quite a presence on LP but not all his 78s have received similar exposure, not least because many were superseded by recordings made in better technological circumstances. All the performances in this 76-minute disc feature Copland at the piano and there is a particular advantage to be encountered listening to some of his febrile early 78s as well as listening to his colleagues of the time, some of whom will be mere names – if that – nowadays.

Le chat et la souris is heard in a 1928 Ampico piano roll, never the most convincing of playback systems and its mechanistic impositions are audible here. It is of some value, however, given that Copland never re-recorded it and that his only solo piano recordings are contained in this disc: he tended to be airily dismissive of his pianistic abilities and later left it to others to propagandise for the solo piano pieces. The Piano Variations was composed in 1930 and recorded for Columbia five years later. It’s a dry recording with some surface noise but its taut, terse immediacy suits this anxious music well, its sinewy Stravinsky-influenced elements very apparent in this fine performance. Vitebsk saw Copland teamed with Ivor Karman, the violinist who had played in the world premiere of the work, and cellist David Freed and both were experienced chamber and orchestral players collaborating in an evocative, powerfully declamatory reading, taut (once again) and angular.

The Two Pieces for violin and piano were also recorded by Columbia in April 1935 and saw Copland teamed with Russian-born Jacques Gordon, a much-admired soloist and quartet leader. There’s also a later recording of the Nocturne, the first of the pieces, where Copland and Louis Kaufman are the players, a Concert Hall recording from 1947. The differences between the two performances are instructive. Gordon’s big slides are positively voluptuous but Kaufman brings a romantic reverie to the table - though the engineers didn’t quite catch the full range of his tone. Gordon plays the tangy Americana of the Ukulele Serenade, the second of the pieces – Gershwin mixed with Robert Russell Bennett - with unbridled brio. The Violin Sonata was part of the same Concert Hall album and here Kaufman and Copland marshal the work’s malleable expressivity with warm tone and moments of vivid resinous drama. The dry acoustic, whilst never ideal, suits the flight and swoop of the finale particularly well.

The coloratura demands of the 1928 Vocalise are adeptly negotiated by Ethel Luening in her 1935 recording. Leo Smit, a most loyal exponent of Copland’s music, joins with the composer for a tangy reading of Danzón Cubano. To end there is the 1949 recording of the Four Piano Blues that Copland made for Decca in London. Copland was recorded quite close-up here and the work features a relaxed second movement for Andor Foldes and a saucy finale for John Kirkpatrick. The other movements are dedicated to Smit and to William Kapell.

The transfers are most successful and the playback of the piano roll was via a Chickering Ampico ‘B’ Grand. Rather like the restoration of Ervin Schulhoff’s complete piano recordings on the same label (PACD 96011) this is a finely assembled, well annotated and excellently focused disc.

Jonathan Woolf



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