Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Erich Kunzel, turns in a nice set of performances of a group of Copland’s more “populist” compositions (pieces composed in his less challenging, tonal style). The Lincoln Portrait is the featured selection on this disc, and is one of Copland’s best-known and most widely performed and recorded compositions. For those unfamiliar with Copland’s musical tribute to the 16th president of the United States, the piece is a three part composition for standard orchestra and solo speaker. The speaker recites text selected by Copland from Abraham Lincoln’s letters and speeches, supported by Copland’s original music, which includes the interpolation and free use of two popular tunes of Lincoln’s time.

The speaker for this recording of Lincoln Portrait is the famous actress, Katherine Hepburn, whose shaky voice (due to age – almost 80 at the time of this recording- and tremors similar to those of Parkinson’s sufferers) made her a rather odd choice, an emphatic contrast to the stronger-voiced performers who have narrated the Portrait such as Henry Fonda, Charlton Heston, James Earl Jones, and dozens more. However, she gets through it quite nicely and her performance is all the more affecting and touching for her disability.

In addition to Hepburn, we get one set of the two-set Old American Songs, well sung by baritone Sherrill Milnes. The Old American Songs in question are folk songs and ballads chosen and assembled by Copland and arranged for singer and orchestra (initially for singer and piano, but later orchestrated). “Long Time Ago” is incredibly beautiful and is my personal favorite among the five songs in the first set. The fourth song, “Simple Gifts,” is the famous Shaker melody utilized by Copland in his famous ballet score, Apalachian Spring.

The balance of the CD sports several lesser-known but excellent Copland pieces for orchestra. These include The Promise of Living from Copland’s opera, The Tender Land and Jubilee Variations, which receives here its premier (and only, to my knowledge) recording. This is a delightful and very easy-to-listen-to disc with less-complex but highly enjoyable Copland music. Scoredaddy

1. John Henry: A Railroad Ballad for Orchestra (1940)
2. Lincoln Portrait (1942) Katherine Hepburn, speaker
3. The Promise of Living from The Tender Land (1954)
4. Old American Songs, Set 1: The Boatmen's Dance, The Dodger, Long Time Ago, Simple Gifts, I Bought Me (1950) Sherrill Milnes, baritone
5. Jubilee Variations (1945)
6. Ceremonial Fanfare (1969)
7. An Outdoor Overture (1938)

Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, conducted by Erich Kunzel
Recorded in Music Hall, Cincinnati Ohio USA on September 22, 1985 and September 15-16, 1986

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Here is an upgrade on a disc I had posted over one year ago. Originally posted in MP3 @320, it was the second CD presented on this blog and it has become the #1 most downloaded title here. These are magnificent recordings and dare I say, definitive versions of these signature compositions in Copland's oevre.

These are, of course, Aaron Copland's landmark works and are the pieces he is most remembered for. As stated above, Bernstein recorded what many beleive to be the definitive renditions of these compositions, although there are many, many other fine ones out there, a few of which have already been posted in these pages. Scoredaddy

Happy is the composer who has an advocate as passionate and talented as Leonard Bernstein. These Copland performances have been the preferred versions since they were first issued--better even than the composer's own, later recordings. Originally they were spread over two discs, but thanks to the extended playing time of the compact disc, you can now get all three great Copland ballets together, along with the ever popular Fanfare for the Common Man. Bernstein brings to this music the right sharpness of rhythm but also a typically open-hearted warmth. He coaxes a virtuoso response from the New York Philharmonic, which knows this music as well (or better) than anyone. Self- recommending. David Hurwitz

Fanfare for the Common Man (1942)
1. Molto deliberato (2:00)

Recorded at Philharmonic Hall, New York City, NY USA on February 16, 1966

Appalachian Spring - Suite (1943-1944)
2. Very Slowly (2:43)
3. Allegro (2:42
4. Moderato (3:52)
5. Fast (3:35)
6. Subito Allegro (3:44)
7. As At First (Slowly) (1:15)
8. Doppio movimento (6:45)

Recorded at Manhattan Center, New York City, NY USA on October 9, 1961

Rodeo – Four Dance Episodes (1942)
9. Buckaroo Holiday - Allegro con spirito (7:00)
10 Corral Nocturne - Moderato (4:02)
11. Saturday Night Waltz - Introduction - Slow Waltz (4:11)
12. Hoe-Down - Allegro (3:06)

Recorded at Manhattan Center, New York City, NY USA on May 2, 1960

Billy The Kid – Suite (1938)
13. Introduction. The Open Prairie (3:15)
14. Street In A Frontier Town (3:22)
15. Mexican Dance And Finale (2:01)
16. Prairie Night (Card Game At Night) (4:22)
17. Gun Battle (1:49)
18. Celebration (After Billy's Capture) (2:22)
19. Billy's Death (1:19)
20. The Open Prairie Again (1:47)

Recorded at the St. George Hotel, Brooklyn, NY USA on October 20, 1960

On all: New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Eduardo Mata's splendid recordings of Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3, Danzón Cubano, and El Salón México with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra are perennials in EMI's catalog, deservedly so for their remarkable energy, splendid orchestral color, sympathetic interpretations, and wide dynamic range. Mata's renderings of Copland's music -- whether brusque and angular, or smooth and serene -- feel natural, authentic, idiomatic, and as hardy as Leonard Bernstein's popular performances or Copland's own authoritative readings. Since fans still have their pick of their legendary versions on Sony, there is little reason to argue that Mata's recordings are in any way superior. However, they are perhaps equivalent in value, balancing both Bernstein's rawness and Copland's softer touch, and yet never sounding derivative or false. In a blindfold test, it might be difficult to distinguish Mata's recordings from either, so faithful is he to the scores and to their brash spirit.

Symphony No. 3 (1944-1946)
1. Molto moderato, with simple expression 11:00
2. Allegro molto 8:07
3. Andantino quasi allegretto 8:52
4. Molto deliberato 13:10

5. Danzon Cubano (1944) 7:50

6. El Salon Mexico (1933-1936) 10:45

Dallas Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eduardo Mata
Recorded at Cliff Temple Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas USA on May 13-14, 1986