Until Copland came along there wasn’t really a truly American sound in concert music; we had jazz of course but that was a different thing. Most of the leading American composers had been trained in Germany and that was the prevailing musical culture. Aaron Copland changed all that, and two of his most American-sounding works are beautifully performed on the first of these discs as conducted by the composer himself.
The Billy the Kid music sounds like it could be from a Western movie. The big attraction for audiophiles has long been the movement Gun Battle. The various tympani and bass drum put on quite a fire fight. The Third Symphony is full of that special American quality which Copland originated and has been copied by so many film composers. It is miles beyond the simple quoting of folk tunes such as Dvorak and Brahms did. John Sunier
The overuse of the word “cult” has recently taken on inflationary proportions – but sometimes it is totally justified: such as for the recordings on the American Everest label. Founded in 1958 by sound engineer Bert Whyte, it created recordings that ranked as trend-setters whenever they were released. Regrettably, two years later they gave up on recording classical music; the LP’s, however, continued to retain their valid reputation as cult objects for collectors for decades to come – not least for the author of these lines, for whom, back in his youth, these discs with their characteristically colorful cover illustrations represented an introduction to the fascinating world of North American and Latin American orchestral music.
Up until now, Everest releases were only briefly available. Fortunately this situation has now changed: one CD from the Everest package deserves a more thoroughgoing consideration: Aaron Copland’s exemplary conducting of his own Symphony No. 3 and the suite from the ballet “Billy the Kid”. Here he avoids a fundamental error to which even authentic Copland specialists like Leonard Bernstein occasionally succumbed: gussying up the music with additional pathos. This can have fatal consequences – especially in the Symphony. The apotheosis of the finale comes across as exaggerated, overstated, cascades of cymbal crashes and tam-tam fireworks threaten to undermine the actual substance of the work. Copland, on the other hand, maintains a tight rein on his own music and keeps all the bombast remains under control. The build-up of tension in the first movement (the strongest section of the symphony) could not have been better realized. In his later recording of this opus for Columbia he failed to reach the formal overview, combined with the rhythmic attack with the same precision he achieved here.
In “Billy the Kid” as well, he limits himself to an unemotional, yet no less extremely transparent and color-intense realization of the score. If we add to this circumstance the fact that the sound image of the orchestra, even for the time this recording was made – probably 1959, but precise information is not available in the booklet – was downright phenomenal in terms of clarity and sharp contours, so that we can refer to this as a true reference recording. Anyone who knows nothing of Copland and is curious about his music should really pick up this CD. Thomas Schulz
1. The Open Prairie
2. Street in a Frontier Town
3. Card Game At Night
4. Gun Battle
5. Celebration: After Billy’s Capture
6. Epilogue: The Open Prairie Again
Third Symphony (1944-46)
7. I Molto Moderato
8. II Allegro Molto
9. III Andantino quasi allegrett0
10. IV Molto deliberato: Allegro risoluto
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland in 1958.