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George Copeland (piano)
rec. 1950-53

The American pianist George Copeland (1882-1971) was one of Debussy’s leading interpreters even whilst the composer was still alive. He made a series of 78s and later, less well-publicised or private LPs, that have served to cement his distinguished position as one of the leading performers not only of Debussy but also of Spanish music. That, of course, in addition to the other selections drawn from the French repertory. In the course of this 75-minute disc you will also find Turina, Falla and Nin amongst others.

For biographical and interpretative matters there are two previous reviews to consider, both of which relate to Pearl restorations. The Victor 78s were on Pearl GEMS 0001 (review) and his discs recorded privately between 1957-63 were on GEM 0121 (review). These generously filled examples of Copeland’s art – vital for questions of interpretative decision making in these repertoires – are now supplemented many years later by Forgotten Records’ restoration of Copeland’s MGM LPs made between 1950 and 1953. Once again, they offer a rich seam of alpha-level playing and show that Copeland who, it is said, always included a Debussy piece in every recital he gave over nearly six decades, maintained a robust attitude to tempi, even as the years passed by.

Most of the selections are familiar from performances on 78s or subsequent private or live performances collected by Pearl. He clearly reveled in the grandeur and caprice of Rameau’s Les Grands Seigneurs and there’s a single Satie example, Gymnopédie No.3, which he also recorded in 1963. Otherwise the French repertoire is all-Debussy. Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Danse sacrée are both played in his own stylistically assured transcriptions, the former laying bare the harmonic and colouristic implications of the music in particular. He also played the latter at Yale in 1964 at a slightly quicker tempo. The Prélude from Pour le piano and Ronde from La Boîte à joujoux show an implacable technique at work. When it comes to La Cathédrale engloutie he tests the MGM engineers and comes close to blasting.

The Spanish performances are varied and virile. His rubati are always at the service of the music and serve to draw out its voluptuous dance elements or its powers of evocation. Many of these pieces too were staples of his recital and indeed recorded legacy. Copeland hardly ever played concertos, he was a recitalist pure and simple for the main part. His captivating Albéniz, his texturally rich and suggestive Pittaluga, the joyful and perfectly calibrated Granados – you won’t want to listen to the Kreisler violin arrangement for quite some time afterwards – vie for maximum pleasure with such things as the clarity and colourful directness of his Infante and its guitar impressions. He often played Mompou and like most it was with a greater sense of colour and expression than then composer himself, at least in his late sequence of LP recordings of his own music. Whether it’s Nin-Culmell or Turina, Laparra or Falla you will be rewarded with a precise sense of characterisation and a sure sense of the idiom.

There are no notes, as usual from this source. The disc’s 75 minutes, excellently transferred, offer perfectly acceptable monos now seventy or so years old but which continue to weave their spell.

Jonathan Woolf

Track listing
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Suite; Les Grands Seigneurs [4:21]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Suite bergamasque; Clair de lune [3:29]
Préludes; Book 1; Minstrels [1:58]
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, transcr. Copeland [8:14]
Préludes; Book 1; La Cathédrale engloutie [5:10]
Danse sacrée, transcr. Copeland [3:31]
Pour le piano: Prélude [3:54]
La Boîte à joujoux; Ronde [2:09]
Images, Book 1: Hommage à Rameau [6:10]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Gymnopédie No.3 [2:24]
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Chant d’Espagne: Córdoba Op.232 No.4 [5:20]
España, Tango, Op.165 No.2 [2:02]
Gustavo PITTALUGA (1906-1975)
Danza de la hoguera [2:30]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Danza española No.5 ‘Andaluza playera’ [2:58]
Joaquín NIN-CULMELL (1908-2004)
Cadena de valses: Serenata [2:31]
Cadena de valses: Homenaje a la jota [2:26]
Manuel INFANTE (1883-1958)
Pochades andaluzas; Tientos [2:19]
Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Cants magics [1:44]
Impressiones intimas: Planys I [2:35]
Cançó I – Dansa No.1 [2:40]
Raoul LAPARRA (1876-1943)
Juergas: Murciana [2:10]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El amor brujo; Canción del fuego fatuo [2:29]
Joaquín TURINA (1892-1949)
Danza gitana, Op.55 No.5 Sacro Monte [1:39]

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