Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I want to extend a sincere and grateful THANK YOU to Mr. Jansons, who was kind enough to allow this post of his rip!! THANK YOU MR. JANSONS. Scoredaddy

According to Virgil Thompson, jazz was Aaron Copland’s “one wild oat”. Maybe, but he sowed it with a will – and others reaped. Page after page of Music for the Theatre and its first cousin, the 1926 Piano Concerto, featured here, read like the blueprints for symphonic dance to come. Bernstein’s On the Town began here. Concert jazz with attitude, sinewy, street-smart, strident, dislocated, blowsy, bumping, grinding, shimmying like everyone’s sister Kate. But Copland arrived first, and middle America (which had mentally drawn a line under Gershwin in that regard) was taken aback – temporarily. An erstwhile succes de scandale became ‘the best roar from the roaring twenties’.

Well, at least one audacious enough to subdue the MGM lion on the opening gambit stakes. It’s a corker, this opening. A bold proclamation passed between trumpets and trombones, a ‘fanfare for...’; but before you can finish the sentence, a dramatic cut to the wide shot: a glorious lyric effusion, its sights set on yet another gleaming skyline. Brave new world or lonely town? The quizzical solo piano isn’t entirely sure, but the yearning grows: rhapsody in blue. Aren’t they all? But as muted clarinets take us in deeper, and deeper, the piano player shucks the cigarette, flicks the wrist, mindful of something snappy; snappy, as in fractured and slightly tipsy. Garrick Ohlsson kicks into this rhythm-bending mood-swing with terrific aplomb, and the San Francisco Symphony stretch every sinew to get their long limbs co-ordinated. Tilson Thomas has them well blooded in the ways of this music: it’s slick, it’s tight, but it still retains that sense of wilful precariousness. One last view of the skyline, and it’s all over.

Copland, ‘the modernist’, alludes to skylines a great deal here. The word ‘sheer’ is always springing to mind – long, tall brilliance; shining surfaces, all height and angularity. It’s hard to imagine that the Orchestral Variations were ever laid down in anything but orchestral terms, their sonority and harmony stretched from top to bottom of the score in spare, spacey chords. Copland’s very particular brand of rhetoric. And then you remember that in its ground-breaking piano original it was as if the keyboard itself had been surrealistically elongated. It has the look of a modern metropolis in sound, this music: lean, clean, oblique. Why, even the beautiful and remote slow movement of the Short Symphony is rural Copland with inner-city tensions.

But let me direct you to the tallest of these particular edifices – because I honestly don’t anticipate a better view of it. Symphonic Ode – Copland’s first big orchestral piece after the Piano Concerto – proceeds onwards and upwards in sky-scraping, octave-leaping tower blocks of sound. It’s so very much a young man’s America, alternately monolithic and toughly contrapuntal. A jazzy hint of misbegotten adolescence, a reflective heart – with solo oboe (exquisitely attended here) lending a refinement so well nursed by Nadia Boulanger – and a tremendous conclusion as proud and implacable as the US Constitution itself. A couple of sensational modulations, and MTT’s San Francisco horns are quite literally reaching for the sky. Because there is no place to go but up. The performance knows just how good it is – and that’s a fact. Deep-set, blockbusting recording. A winner.' Edward Seckerson

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1926)
1. Andante sustention 7:32
2. Molto moderato; Allegro assai 9:27
Garrick Ohlsson, piano

3. Orchestral Variations (1957) 13:39

Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2) (1932/33)
4. Incisivo 4:33
5. Espressivo 5:01
6. Preciso e ritmico 5:52

7. Symphonic Ode (1928/29) 20:16

San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas
Recorded June 25, 1996 at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA, USA

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The three volumes in the “Copland Celebration” series are only available separately so you can pick and choose. Dedicated Coplanders will want all of them. Sony, who have come in for considerable stick in some quarters, have here done a regal job. Design is consistent across the three sets. The market placement is astute at mid-price. The 2 CD sets are in slimline cases.

The great attraction of these sets is the harvest of previously CD-unavailable tapes. The following receive their first CD release here (speaking of the entire three-volume series): Nonet, Vitebsk, Piano Quartet, Lincoln Portrait, Dickinson Poems (both Addison and Lipton), Old American Songs, Tender Land, In the Beginning, Dark, Nonet, Copland rehearsing Appalachian Spring. The two Billy extracts played by Oscar Levant appear for the first time on any commercial medium.

The sets were issued in Copland centenary year (2000) and merit attention here. The age of the tapes varies from 1959 to 1971 with many falling in the 1960s. The only monos are the Martha Lipton Dickinson Poems, the Warfield American Songs, the Levant Billy excerpts. These are all ADD and the sound quality is good to excellent.

Discographical documentation is good and background notes (in English only) are by Copland biographer, Howard Pollack. An obvious though hardly damning demerit is that none of the words are printed. The booklet for each set is liberally sprinkled with facsimiles of concert fliers and programme notes as well as some very natural on the fly photographs.

Though eclipsed in hifi terms there is still plenty of bass and fibrous pith in the LSO version of the Fanfare. The boozy Arnold-like Copland is evident from the second of the Rodeo dance episodes which also chimes in well with The American Songs. His orchestration which blossomed under the tutelage of Nadia Boulanger is pristine, Gallic in its transparency but American in every other way. I wasn't sure whether the LSO were quite on top of things in the final dance but otherwise things go with a swing and with galloping élan. Stravinsky scores were amongst those studied by Copland during his Parisian years and certainly The Rite surfaces with unmistakable identity throughout the orchestral works - try The Open Prairie in Billy The Kid. When that music returns at the end it has the atmosphere of a tragic scrolling effect - extremely cinematic. Playing is pointed and precise - a great orchestra in their finest confident form.

El Salon lacks the out and out zip and shudder of Bernstein's version however the accenting is sharper in the composer's version. The NYPO are probably more at home in this music and the NPO trumpets seem not completely inside the idiom by comparison with Bernstein's band. The LSO manage things more naturally with Danzon Cubano. Quiet City - that hymn to metropolitan solitude has never quite been matched in the case of this Copland version.

Appalachian Spring is a hallmark work in Copland's catalogue. Its qualities are exposed to even greater effect in its original chamber garb. A cool innocence allied of music keyed into vernal winds, rustic playfulness and the landscape. Some may miss the opulence of a full orchestra but the compensations in terms of diaphanous sounds and a glowing soundscape more than compensate. Tight rhythmic control push things along with real zing. Somehow the fact that this represents the score as it would have sounded when it was danced by the Martha Graham troupe in the murderous 1940s seems only a makeweight. Hearing the complete ballet underlines who used we have become to the orchestral suite - tracks 8, 11 and 12 seems stylistically anomalous now - rather slow, a trifle slower and Molto allegro ed agitato. The fifteen instruments are six violins, two violas, two cellos, double bass, flute, clarinet, bassoon and piano. Paul Jacobs was the pianist in this 1973 recording. We take with this more than 17 minutes of rehearsal which illustrates the care with which Copland laboured at the creation of that slender web of sound and zappy attack. Copland's direction is firm, specific but always respectful of the musicians. The sequence is not continuous with sections faded down and then faded up.

The Nonet for strings is a quite unfamiliar work. It oscillates between the poles of Bach, Tippett and neo-classicism. A no-holds-barred performance with plenty of gutsy playing compromised by 1962 sound only to the extent that it lends an unforgiving edge to the strings at forte and above. Rob Barnett


1. Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) 3:16
LSO, Walthamstow, UK 26-29 Oct 1968

Rodeo (1942)
2. I. Buckaroo Holiday 7:47
3. II. Corral Nocturne 3:50
4. III. Saturday Night Waltz 4:44
5. IV. Hoe-Down 3:33
LSO, Walthamstow, UK 26 Oct 1968

Billy The Kid (1942)
6. Introduction: The Open Prairie 3:21
7. Street in a Frontier Town 6:26
8. Card Game at Night (Prairie Night) 3:45
9. Gun Battle 2:03
10. Celebration Dance (after Billy’s Capture) 2:15
11. Billy’s Death 1:28
12. The Open Prairie Again 1:45
LSO, Walthamstow, UK Nov 1969

13. El Salon Mexico (1936) 11:27
New Philharmonia, EMI Studios, London UK 31 May 1972

14. Danzon Cubano (1942)
LSO, EMI Studios, London UK 9-10 Nov 1970

15. Quiet City (1939) 9:49
William Lang (trumpet)/Michael Winfield (English Horn)/LSO, Walthamstow, UK 6 Nov 1969

16. Down a Country Lane (1965)
LSO, Walthamstow, UK 26 Oct 1968

Appalachian Spring (original chamber version) (1945)
1. Very Slowly 2:44
2. Allegro 2:49
3. Moderato 3:28
4. Fast 3:25
5. Subito Allegro 2:57
6. Menos Mosso 1:58
7. Doopio movimento 2:23
8. Rather slow 1:25
9. Very deliberate 2:44
10. Poco piu mosso 1:01
11. A trifle slower 0:24
12. Molto Allegro ed agitato 3:09
13. Broadly 0:33
14. Moderato (like a prayer) 3:18
Columbia Chamber Ensemble/Columbia Studios, NYC 9-11 May 1973

Nonet (1960)
15. Slow and solemn 5:39
16. Ritmico ed un poco marcato 6:48
17. Temp as at first 5:01
Columbia String Ensemble/ 799, 7th Ave, NYC, 6 Apr 1962

18. Copland rehearses Appalachian Spring. 17:12
Columbia Studios, NYC 6 April 1962