Monday, September 21, 2009


The Copland known to most people is the composer of scores such as El Salón México, Rodeo, Appalachian Spring, and the Third Symphony--in short, of the popular, approachably folksy works of the years 1936 to 1946. But what about the music Copland wrote before these defining pieces? Some would say it's even more important, having served to open the door, as Virgil Thomson rightly observed, to "the voice of America in our generation."

The four works on this disc show that Copland was Copland--a powerful, provocative, original, and energetic musical personality--before he was "Copland." The daring Organ Symphony of 1924, the same year as Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, sounds at least 20 years ahead of its time. The Dance Symphony, from 1929 (but based on material from Copland's 1922 ballet, Grohg), is permeated by the aroma of French modernism and full of the spiky grotesqueries of Stravinsky and Bartók, yet it's got a jazzy swagger that's distinctively ... Copland. Ditto for the Short Symphony of 1933, rhythmically one of the most boisterous pieces Copland ever wrote.

Even the one work that appears to be "later" Copland--the Orchestral Variations of 1957--is actually from the same youthful vintage as the symphonies. It's Copland's orchestration of his epoch-making 1930 Piano Variations, among the most powerful utterances in the history of American music. Seventy years later, the force of the musical ideas in this piece still takes listeners' breath away, and reminds us it was no accident that Copland has come to be regarded as America's greatest composer. Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra play the spots off all the music on this CD, and the sound is superlative. Ted Libbey

Symphony For Organ and Orchestra (1924)
1. Andante 6:02
2. Scherzo 7:21
3. Finale: Lento 10:03
Simon Preston , organ

Dance Symphony (1929)
4. Intro: Lento, Molto Allegro 6:37
5. Adante Moderato 4:40
6. Allegro Vivo 4:51

Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2) (1932-33)
7. Incisivo 4:07
8. Espressivo 4:56
9. Presto E Ritmico 5:36

10. Orchestral Variations (1957) 12:36

St Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin
Recorded September 21, 1993 at Christ Church Cathedral, St Louis, MO (#1-3); February 17&18, 1995 (#4-9) & May 9, 1995 (#10)at Powell Symphony Hall, St Louis, MO USA

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Carl Sandburg only appears on about 14 minutes of this mid-priced two-CD set, but it's a very important 14 minutes in terms of his artistry and career. The poet/singer's four-decade association with Abraham Lincoln culminated on record in 1958 with his recording of Aaron Copland's "A Lincoln Portrait" with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of the man who commissioned the work, Andre Kostelanetz.

Sandburg's relationship to the piece went back 15 years, though he did not narrate it at its debut, but nobody ever narrated it better on record -- Sandburg quotes the lines drawn from Lincoln's speeches as though they're his, and his utterance of the framing narrative is done with the gentleness of someone who seems to have known the man, and knew the sadness of losing him; when he speaks on Lincoln being a quiet and a melancholy man, he does it as if he were describing a much-mourned friend, with all of the depth that implied in that description.

It's an illusion, but a successful one and totally natural, from a non-actor. Sandburg's voice has a natural fragility that is extraordinary in a recording like this, and separates him from the work of Henry Fonda and most other actors who have recorded this piece. The Philharmonic never played the piece with more feeling, and the recording quality is excellent. Bruce Eder

This second Copland collection focuses on unique talents of veteran performers. William Warfield lends his voice and his interpretations of Copland's Old American Songs, and he sings them as they were meant to be, not as classical diletantes felt they should be. You have authenticity here.

Martha Lipton likewise contributes an older world charm and charisma to Copland's settings for Emily Dickenson's words. Carl Sandberg's resonant reading of his own words is worth the full price of this set. And then the inimitable Oscar Levant's piano treatment of the orchestral pieces...Levant had a wry touch to his interpretations that gave him a voice all his own.
There's much more here, quite a bit that's less than familiar and therefore increases one's familiarity with Copland. Neal C. Reynolds

1. Vitebsk, Study On A Jewish Theme (1929)
Aaron Copland (piano)
Earl Carlyss (violin)
Claus Adam (cello)
Recorded at Columbia Records 30th Street Studio, New York City, NY on October 28, 1966

Sextet For Clarinet, Piano And String Quartet (1937)

2. I. Allegro vivace
3. II. Lento
4. III. Finale
Aaron Copland (piano)
Harold Wright (clarinet)
Julliard String Quartet:
Robert Mann (violin)
Raphael Hiller (viola)
Earl Carlyss (violin)
Claus Adam (cello)
Recorded at Columbia Records 30th Street Studio, New York City, NY on October 27, 1966

Piano Quartet (1950)
5. I. Adagio serio
6. II. Allegro giusto
7. III. Non troppo lento
Aaron Copland (piano)
Robert Mann (violin)
Raphael Hiller (viola)
Claus Adam (cello)
Recorded at Columbia Records 30th Street Studio, New York City, NY on October 28, 1966

Duo For Flute And Piano (1970-71)
8. I. Flowing
9. II. Poetic, Somewhat Mournful
10. III. Lively, With Bounce
Aaron Copland (piano)
Elaine Shaffer (flute)
Recorded at Columbia Records 30th Street Studio on December 11&14, 1972

1. Lincoln Portrait (1942)
The New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andre Kostelanetz.
Carl Sandburg (narrator)
Recorded in New York City, NY on March 16, 1958

Twelve Poems Of Emily Dickinson (1949-50)
2. I. Nature, The Greatest Mother
3. II. There Came A Wind Like A Bugle
4. III. Why Do They Shut Me Out Of Heaven?
5. The World Feels Dusty
6. V. Heart, We Will Forget Him
7. VI. Dear March, Come In!
8. VII. Sleep Is Supposed To Be
9. VIII. When They Come Back
10. IX. I Felt A Funeral In My Brain
11. X. I've Heard An Organ Talk Sometimes
12. XI. Going To Heaven!
13. XII. The Chariot
Martha Lipton (voice)
Aaron Copland (piano)
Recorded at Columbia Records 30th Street Studio, New York City, NY on December 22, 1950 and April 4, 1952

Old American Songs -Set 1 (1950)
14. The Boatmen's Dance (Minstrel Song, 1843)
15. The Dodger (Campaign Song)
16. Long Time Ago
17. Simple Gifts (Shaker Song)
18. I Bought Me A Cat
Old American Songs -Set 2 (1952)
19. The Little Horses (Lullaby)
20. Zion's Walls (Revivalist Song)
21. The Golden Willow Tree
22. At The River (Hymn Tune)
23. Ching-A-Ring Chaw (Minstrel Song)
William Warfield (voice)
Aaron Copland (piano)
Recorded at Columbia Records 30th Street Studio, New York City, NY on August 16, 1951 (Set 1) and August 18, 1953 (Set 2)

Billy The Kid (1938) arr. for solo piano
24. I. The Open Prairie
25. II. Street In A Frontier Town
26. V. Celebration Dance (After Billy's Capture)
Oscar Levant (piano)
Recorded at Columbia Records 30th Street Studio, New York City, NY on September 1, 1949

Friday, September 11, 2009


As the review below mentions, this CD soundtrack for a Spike Lee film acts as sort of Copland’s Greatest Hits and all the selections within are also available in the various composer-conducted collections that you can find in the pages of this blog. However, we do have one “new” item on this CD, and that is the reason for this posting. This disc includes the wonderful “Lincoln Portrait”, for the first time ever (to my knowledge) WITHOUT narration! The text that Copland selected for this stirring piece is essential to its very being… but, it is indeed fascinating to hear the music alone: quite beautiful and majestic. This is an excellent sampler for those who wish to quickly experience the most popular music Copland wrote in his most mainstream Americana manner. Scoredaddy

Director Spike Lee states, "When I listen to Aaron Copland's music, I hear America, and basketball is America." That may be far-fetched for those who saw Lee's film, especially when the only other music in the film was that of Public Enemy. On its own, though, this album is a welcome "greatest hits" collection of Copland's Americana. The CD and the movie start off with John Henry, a slow-building, beguiling melody that works effortlessly with Lee's montage of basketball images. More spirited numbers such as "Hoe-Down" from Rodeo and Fanfare for the Common Man are also featured on the soundtrack. Unlike many Copland compilation CDs, this collection features abridged selections, allowing for more variety of source material: symphonies, soundtracks from movies (Of Mice and Men, Our Town), and ballets. Maybe not the CD for the purist, but a welcome first album for those who were introduced to Copland's music by the film. At over 60 minutes, it's a worthwhile investment. Doug Thomas

1. John Henry (04:00)

Appalachian Spring
2. Very Slowly (02:45)
3. Calm and Flowing (Shaker melody) (03:11)
4. Moderato, Coda (03:24)

5. "Hoe-Down" From Rodeo (03:33)
6. Lincoln Portrait (without narration) (15:06)
7. "Interlude" From Music For The Theatre (05:24)
8. Fanfare For The Common Man (03:16)
9. "Pas De Trois" From Dance Panels (04:05)
10. Letter From Home (07:23)
11. "Grover's Corner" From Our Town (03:13)

Billy The Kid
12. The Open Prairie (03:21)
13. The Open Prairie Again (01:46)

Aaron Copland conducting The London Symphony Orchestra except #7 Leonard Bernstein conducting The New York Philharmonic

Total Duration: 01:00:27

Monday, September 7, 2009


Arguably the best American symphony coupled with arguably the best-known American symphony makes an ideal pairing on paper. Sad to report, however, I have considerable reservations. Roy Harris‘s Third is one of the most awesomely concentrated of all twentieth-century symphonic structures, but you wouldn‘t guess it from Neeme Jãrvi’s loose-limbed, disconcertingly slack conception. As the opening few minutes quickly reveal, the orchestral playing is neat but cruelly lacks bite and tension. Where’s the sense of tingling expectancy in these measures, the feeling of setting out on some fantastic musical voyage? Whither the bite of fortissimo trombones and horns on their first appearance? And whatever happened to the burgeoning lyricism of the pages that follow? In the central portion (so potently suggestive of the vast horizons of the prairies and their fields of rippling wheat) Jarvi opens out the two small cuts practised by Koussevitzky and Bernstein, but given the disinterested nature of the musicmaking, the restoration of these extra bars is not necessarily a boon. And so it goes on. The tremendous fugue barely gets off the ground, generating none of the volcanic power and implacable momentum so evident in the two Bernstein accounts (CBS, 6/76 and DG, 11/87 — both nla) and Koussevitzky’s fabulous 1939 Boston reading, while Jarvi’s brusquely impatient handling of the tolling peroration merely gives the impression that session-time was running out (and why the sudden, ugly lurch forward in tempo at the beginning of this section?). All in all, the performance is a bitter disappointment, to say the least.

Copland‘s mighty Third fares more happily, but I‘m still far from convinced that Jarvi really has this repertoire well and truly in his bloodstream. For all the agreeable security of the orchestral response, I don‘t register any especial dedication or inspirational sense of occasion about proceedings. Indeed, a certain literalness and “let‘s get on with it“ efficiency tend to scupper large portions of the symphony‘s first half; the searching string dialogue with which the slow movement opens also lacks the last ounce of eloquence (and, at the very start, the necessary icy hush). That said, Jarvi rises capably enough to the big and brazen ‘public‘ gestures of the finale, and the Chandos sound is predictably alluring in its transparent sumptuousness. In the end, though, it all boils down to conviction, the kind of extraordinary commitment to the cause that Bernstein and his New Yorkers display on their electrifying 1985 DG version; the relative dearth of those self-same qualities in Detroit is what ultimately relegates this latest account to the also-rans. AA

Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3 (1939)
1. I. Con moto: quarter note = 84 [Tragic] — - 2:06
2. II. half note = 72-80 [Lyric] — - 1:20
3. III. Poco piu mosso: half note = 94-104 [Pastoral] — - 6:27
4. IV. half note = 112 [Fugue - Dramatic] — - 3:26
5. V. Con moto: whole note = 66-72 [Dramatic - Tragic] - 3:09

Aaron Copland: Symphony No. 3 (1944-46)
6. I. Molto moderato - with simple expression - 9:41
7. II. Allegro molto - 8:00
8. III. Andantino quasi allegretto - 9:30
9. IV. Molto deliberato - 13:26

Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Jarvi
Recorded at Orchestra Hall, Detroit, Michigan USA on 1-2 October 1995