Thursday, October 23, 2008


Copland did not compose an extensive repertory of choral music but this is a pleasant sampling which includes the then-premier recordings of Four Motets and Canticle of Freedom composed in 1921 and 1955 respectively.

The more widely-known Old American Songs was originally assembled by Copland for voice and piano and later set for voice and orchestra by the composer. The choral version of Old American Songs was arranged by Irving Fine, Raymond Wilding-White, and Glenn Koponen.

Michael Tilson Thomas has long been an able interpreter of Aaron Copland's works and, in fact, was hand-selected by the composer himself to conduct the chorus for these recordings. Copland had originally planned to handle the conducting chores himself but was too ill to participate.

Background information on this recording can be found in the scanned liner notes contained in the download. For a history and analysis of these compositions, see the comments.

Old American Songs, Set I (1950)
1. The Boatmen's Dance 3:03
2. The Dodger 2:05
3. Long Time Ago 3:10
4. Simple Gifts 1:21
5. I Bought Me A Cat 2:12

Old American Songs, Set II (1952)
6. The Little Horses 3:11
7. Zion's Walls 1:44
8. The Golden Willow Tree 3:20
9. At The River 2:43
10. Ching-A-Ring Chaw 1:33

11. Canticle Of Freedom (1955) 13:46

Four Motets (1921)
12. Help Us, O Lord 2:50
13. Thou, O Jehovah, Abideth Forever 2:29
14. Have Mercy On Us, O My Lord 4:11
15. Sing Ye Praises To Our King 1:41

Recorded in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Utah in 1986

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


When one thinks of pure musical "Americana", most likely the name Aaron Copland comes to mind. One of the perennial American composers, his music undoubtedly shaped the way we think of American music - and film scoring. While he only scored 10 films, he was nominated for three Academy Awards and won an Oscar for The Heiress. Many people might think of his "Fanfare for the Common Man" or "Appalachian Spring" concert works, and others might think of Of Mice and Men and Our Town for his film scores. "Celluloid Copland" is a new compilation album that has been released which covers four more Copland projects: From Sorcery to Science, The City, The Cummington Story, and The North Star.

From Sorcery to Science was actually a puppet show at the Hall of Pharmacy at the 1939 World's Fair. While basically an infomercial (as most things were at the fair), Copland's music quickly bounced around different world styles, yet somehow remained American at its core. With a triumphant brass "Opening Fanfare", the show began. "The Chinese Medicine Man" and "African Voodoo" use ethnic percussion and scoring, and feel Chinese and African in style, but the tunes themselves are pure Copland. "Finale: The March of the Americas" is a glorious cue full of proud glory and beaming pride: medicine will help us all!

The City was a short documentary done in 1939. The film begins by showing the differences between an idyllic small New England town and a dirty grimy industrial city, where everyone is miserable ("The Steel Mill", "Sorrow of the City"). The main unifying theme is lyrical and complex; it reminds me of something that John Williams would be writing today. The excitement builds a little bit at "Fire Engines at Lunch Hour", where a whistle is put to good effect, along with a tense orchestra, and plenty of Americana. "End Title: The Children" is another fanfare moment, done in the classic Copland style. It's because of his work on this film that he ended up composing Of Mice and Men, and his sporadic (and somewhat short) Hollywood career began.

A suite from The Cummington Story is presented on this album as well. A tender and emotional piece, the documentary follows war refugees as they begin new lives in a small Massachusetts town. This is a great suite of music, and the arrangement by conductor Jonathan Sheffer did a wonderful job keeping the music flowing.

The final suite on the album is from The North Star. A World War II film actually written during WWII, it depicted the Nazi's savage attack on a Russian village. The ending wasn't very upbeat, so famed lyricist Ira Gershwin was brought in to help lighten the atmosphere to send "a cheery message of hope". Here Copland moved away from Americana, and tackled a more Russian style. "Main Title" is a good overall cue, giving you a taste of things to come. The sad, melancholy orchestra in "Death of the School Boy" lead up to the exciting "Song of the Guerillas". Featuring Gershwin's lyrics, Copland's main fanfare is brought to life with depth and complexity. It's an excellent track, and leads directly into the battle suite, contained in "North Star Battle", "The Children's Return" and "Guerilla's Return". Here Copland shows his flare for action cues, with fast moving strings and brass mixed with percussion hits. Stylically similar to some of Prokofiev's music in Alexander Nevsky, this suite is dramatic and exciting - and pretty different from the rest of the music on the album.

The performances by the Eos Orchestra, under the baton of Jonathan Sheffer are quite good, and the sound quality is excellent. This Telarc release has a running time of just about an hour, and for those out there who have very little exposure to Aaron Copland's music, I would have to strongly urge you pick it up. While it may not compare to some of his more "classic" film scores such as Our Town or The Red Pony, this is a great album to have, and I'm sure anyone who gets it will not be disappointed. Dan Goldwasser

From Sorcery to Science (1939)
1. Opening Fanfare 0:10
2. The Chinese Medicine Man 1:44
3. The Witch's Cauldron 1:50
4. The Alchemist 1:23
5. African Voodoo 1:37
6. The Modern Pharmacy 1:08
7. Finale: March of the Americas 1:59

The City (Suite) (1939)
8. Main Title: New England Countryside 4:42
9. The Steel Mill 2:20
10. The Sorrow of the City 2:44
11. Fire Engines at Lunch Hour 2:13
12. Taxi Jam 1:55
13. Sunday Traffic 2:45
14. The New City 4:10
15. End Tite: The Children 1:04

16. The Cummington Story (Suite) (1945) 9:55

The North Star (Suite) (1943)
17. Main Title 2:17
18. Death of the Little Boy 2:13
19. Going To School 1:50
20. Damian is Blind 2:55
21. Song of the Guerrillas 1:11
22. North Star Battle 1:42
23. The Children's Return 1:03
24. Guerillas Return 1:51
25. Leaving the Village 2:16

Jonathan Sheffer conducting the Eos Orchestra
Recorded March 15-20, 2000 at The Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, Purchase, NY USA

Saturday, October 11, 2008


"Louis Lane and the Atlanta Symphony offer fine performances and remain at the head of the pack for uncompromising audiophile sound." - Fanfare

The Lane/Atlanta SO recording comprises three of Copland’s best-known works, and is a decent, if unspectacular, introduction to his works. Some years ago I would have said that "A Fanfare for the Common Man" is Copland’s most famous work. It was written on commission by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; ten composers were commissioned to write patriotic fanfares to "foster patriotic spirit" during World War II. Copland’s is the only of these fanfares to survive in the repertory (although I’ve always wanted to hear the others; I wonder if they’re recorded anywhere). The "Fanfare" opens with a mighty pounding of the drum, followed by a breathtaking trumpet theme which is then expanded by the rest of the brass. The "Fanfare" demands spectacular sound, but to my ears the Louis Lane/Atlanta Symphony recording here is a bit muted and flat, which is curious given that Telarc Digital recordings tend to the "spectacular" side. The other works on the disc fare better: the "Appalachian Spring" and "Rodeo: Four Dance" "Episodes" are well-done, with the sound opening up a bit. Conductor Lane gives the inner movements of "Rodeo" a nice lilt, and the "Buckaroo Holiday" is also well-shaped. I do think that he takes the "Hoe-Down" (which, thanks to the long-running advertising campaign for American beef, is now indisputably the most well-known of all of Copland’s works) a bit too fast. The Atlanta players, particularly the brass, keep up quite well, but some of this music’s charm is lost in Lane’s trip to the races. His "Appalachian Spring" is also brisk, which tends to keep the score’s most dramatic segments from achieving their true potential. But it, too, is well-played by the orchestra.

This spectacular recording, recorded in 1981 and released in 1982, won kudos from the critics for both sound and performance. One of the earliest available CDs, it was known to audiophiles the world over for the stunning clarity and sound of its opening track, containing Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.

1. Fanfare For The Common Man (1942) 3:20

Rodeo, Ballet Suite (1942)
2. Buckaroo Holiday (7:21)
3. Rodeo - Corral Nocturne (3:42)
4. Rodeo - Saturday Night Waltz (4:05)
5. Rodeo - Hoe Down (3:15)

6. Appalachian Spring, Ballet Suite (1943-44) 22:25

Louis Lane conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at Atlanta Symphony Hall, Atlanta, GA USA on May 24, 1982