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Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Copland conducts Copland
Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) [3:14]
El Salón México (1936) [11:29]
Clarinet Concerto (1948) [17:39]
Hoe-Down from Rodeo (1942) [4:14]
Suite from The Tender Land (1954/1968) [20:40]
Benny Goodman (clarinet), Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Philharmonic / Aaron Copland
rec. 1974, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center, Los Angeles
Region A, B, C. Picture: HD 4:3. Sound: PCM Stereo
NAXOS Blu-ray NBD0068V [59 mins]

There are a good number of audio recordings of Aaron Copland conducting his own music – and doing so in an authoritative fashion - but I’m not aware of many video recordings of him on the podium. That makes this archive recording of him conducting a concert of his own works all the more valuable and welcome.

I’m not quite sure when in 1974 these performances were given but, judging by the spoken introduction by an announcer, the concert seems to have been an early celebration of the composer’s 75th birthday, which fell in November 1975. That introduction is all we hear from the announcer but before each work commences the action “freezes” and we hear a short prefatory comment about the work in question by Copland himself. These remarks are also printed in the booklet. The camerawork is a bit dated but it’s perfectly acceptable and, on my equipment, both the picture quality and the sound were good.

Copland was an effective but not especially demonstrative conductor. Here, he largely restricts himself to beating – very clearly – and giving cues. He’s at his most demonstrative in the three-movement suite from The Tender Land. However, though he eschews flamboyance his performances are certainly not dull. Clearly, all the required work had been done in rehearsal and he secures excellent performances from the LAPO.

It’s a particular treat to see the Clarinet Concerto performed by Benny Goodman, who commissioned the work. Goodman, who plays from a copy, is in full command of the music, nowhere more so than in his seemingly effortless traversal of the demanding cadenza that acts as a bridge between the two movements. His tone and phrasing are ideally suited to the lyricism of the first movement. The jazz-inflected second movement is done well enough but I had the impression that this was a performance in which no risks were taken. It’s a good, clean performance but it didn’t really get my toes tapping. Still, it’s great to see composer and dedicatee in action together.

In the ‘Hoe-Down’ from Rodeo Copland is anything but showy in his conducting but he directs the performance with admirable clarity and gets very good results. The same is true of El Salón México though the music isn’t delivered with quite the same élan as is the case when someone like Bernstein is on the podium. Still, the present performance is colourful and lively; I enjoyed it.

The three-movement suite from the opera The Tender Land is probably the least familiar item here so its inclusion is especially welcome. As I said earlier, Copland is at his most animated here, especially in the opening movement, ‘Introduction and Love Scene’, which is purely orchestral. The Los Angeles Master Chorale make a very good contribution to the remaining movements, the energetic ‘Party Scene’ and ‘Finale: The Promise of Living’. The latter movement comprises music that shows Copland in his most full-heartedly American style and the performance is suitably fervent.

For devotees of Copland’s music this concert, though offering fairly short playing time, is an attractive proposition.

John Quinn

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