Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 An Outdoor Overture (1938) [8:47]
Symphony No.1 for large orchestra (1926-28) [22:51]
Statements (1932-35) [19:33]
Dance Symphony for large orchestra (arranged Copland from the ballet Grohg, 1929) [16:59]
BBC Philharmonic/John Wilson
rec. 15-16 June 2016, MediaCityUK, Salford, England. DSD
CHANDOS CHSA5195 SACD
Perhaps exposure to Copland’s music over
more years than I care to think has made me less
susceptible than Ian Lace –
– to finding it harsh, brittle and spiky. If IL ended
by liking the
album despite his reaction to the composer’s manner, I came to the same
conclusion because of my liking for that manner. What we can easily agree
on is the ‘verve and panache’ with which John Wilson and the BBC Phil
perform all this music.
Certainly, there’s nothing spiky about the opening Outdoor Overture,
a work which speaks of the wide-open spaces of the classic Western movies.
It’s roughly contemporary with his ballet Billy the Kid and has much
in common both with that work and his masterpiece, the Third and final
Symphony (1944-46) and Wilson and the BBC Phil bring out its attraction.
Symphony No.1, too, has many moments of tenderness – try the contemplative
opening of the first movement. Though the revised version omits the organ
– the work was originally the Organ Symphony, as performed on Volume 2 of
this series (CHSA5171 –
Recording of the Month) – it retains many characteristics of the concerto form and that adds to
the appeal. Even though the Age of Anxiety rears its head in the finale,
there’s nothing too angular in this work, especially in this performance. The main rival, which also
couples Symphony No.1 with the Dance Symphony and throws in the Short Symphony for good measure, comes from Marin Alsop on one of
the many fine recordings, many of them of American music, which she has
made for Naxos.
I share Dan Morgan’s enthusiasm for this recording –
– and it can be obtained for considerably less outlay than the new Chandos:
as little as $5.83 if downloaded from
eclassical.com. It’s 16-bit only, as against the 24/96 and SACD Chandos, but it sounds
very well. Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can stream both recordings
there. Pay your money and take your pick, but bear in mind how much of her
mentor Bernstein’s feeling for Copland’s music – and much else – Alsop has
Statements seems to me one of those works where unless the listener is
concentrating, it’s easy to get lost and I must admit that I don’t find the
short descriptions of each section helpful. Quiet City is another
such work where I find it easy to lose the thread.
Forget the fact that the Dance Symphony was based on music from the
ballet Grohg, something of which I think the notes in the booklet
make a little too much, and enjoy it in a performance which doesn’t try too
hard to bring out the grotesque. In Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger,
it would have been almost impossible for Copland not to be influenced by
Stravinsky and other contemporary composers. By comparison with The Rite of Spring and
especially with Prokofiev’s Le Pas d’Acier (1926), the
Dance Symphony is a cooing dove. There’s plenty of Americana, too, in the
finale. And who better to bring that out than John Wilson, renowned for
his proms performances of the musicals?2 If you want the music to
sound a touch spikier, you may prefer Marin Alsop here. Perhaps, as
sometimes elsewhere, Wilson tempers the music a little too much.
Copland's own rougher-edged CBS/Sony recordings of these early works seem to
have fallen by the way, though Statements remains available to
stream or download in a non-Sony transfer.
Despite my slight preference for Marin Alsop’s
rather less compromising manner in the symphonies and the
availability of her Naxos recording at budget price, Copland lovers who buy
the new Chandos recording should not regret their decision, especially if
the availability of SACD or 24-bit sound appeals.
Bernstein’s CBS/Sony recording of the Organ Symphony (with E Power Biggs)
and Symphony No.3, still one of the best recordings of that masterpiece,
can be downloaded in lossless sound for £3.49 from
– a wonderful bargain, albeit that the booklet is a sketchy, all-purpose
2That’s Entertainment: music from the musicals (EMI/Warner 0288452 –
Recording of the Month
currently offer the CD for £5.99 – less than their price for their
low-bit-rate mp3 download or any other download I can find.
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